When I was in college, I spent a few days of my sophomore year spring break visiting my future brother-in-law who was going to med school in New York City. It was my first time in the Big Apple, so Dave took some time to show me around the city. We didn’t do the typical tourist activities, like seeing the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, but we went to one of his favorite delis, and walked around some of the neighborhoods in the vicinity checking out local businesses.
On one of our walks, I noticed some electronics stores with big signs saying “Going Out of Business” and “Great Deals, All Sales Final.” The prices were supposed to have deep discounts, but it really didn’t seem that way to me, since everything was priced much higher than I would normally pay and didn’t have name brand products. When I mentioned to Dave there seemed to be quite a number of these types of stores, he told me that those stores have been “going out of business” since he started med school a couple years before then. The stores were not really going out of business, but advertised that way to get people in the store and buy the merchandise believing they were getting a good deal. It was dishonest advertising and I learned to be wary of such business practices.
Over the years, I have gotten my share of appeal letters from nonprofit organizations that used this kind of message in order to spur my giving. Some appeals used urgency and mentioned things like the thousands of animals that would be abused or put down without my support. Another wrote about how their programs would be shuttered if they didn’t raise the required amount of money they needed. Yet others said so many thousands of children would die if I didn’t send them a check right away. All of those mentioned used urgency in an attempt to separate me and my money.
The following year, their messages were pretty much the same. My donations could save thousands of animals from abuse, keep the programs going and the doors open, keep thousands of children from dying. They even used the same pictures and illustrations.
They never really told me how my donations saved those animals, kept their doors open, or alleviated the suffering of one child, let alone thousands, especially because my gifts were not very large. They didn’t provide any data at all when they asked again. It really didn’t seem that those groups were being straight forward with me.
How did your organization really save thousands of animals from abuse? Will you really have to shut down all your programs and close your doors? How can you prove that your saved thousands of children?
The AFP Code of Professional Ethics states “Members shall take care to ensure that all solicitation materials are accurate and correctly reflect their organization’s mission and use of solicited funds.” To me that means when you are sending out appeals to active and potential donors, your organization should be telling your target audience how you plan to use their support for which you are asking, not just why. You should also show that you are using that support the way you said you would. Don’t be vague; be specific. Use data to show that you are actually doing what you say you would. Be honest and straightforward when engaging your supporters. Creating a false urgency in your message is a sure way to lose a donor’s support.