What Do You Care About?

This is part four of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here’s a link to the series intro.

White Check Mark on Blue by Kylemac on Flickr
White Check Mark on Blue by Kylemac on Flickr

I wish that fundraisers would ask me what I care about. I’m not looking to write them essays, but perhaps a few well-chosen check boxes could help them (and me) see if there’s any likelihood of my being a donor.  I further wish they would act upon this knowledge by either telling me how their organization is something I care about or by removing me from their list of people to pester frequently.

At this point in my life I’m most interested in supporting small, local initiatives that are focused on sustained improvement in quality of life.  Check, check and check.  Done.  Was that so difficult?

I realize I run the risk of sounding petulant and self-centered when I ask organizations working hard to assuage the world’s problems to focus on me.

My response is that I’m not raking in the dough in an unrelated endeavor and then carefully considering how I can philanthropically skim off and donate 3% of my accrued annual interest to reach as many less-advantaged people as possible.  That’s just not how I do things.

I believe in small projects that treat people like people, and as such I work for one and try to donate to a couple of others.  And if you’re not obviously that kind of project, you’re wasting my time and your money by half-heartedly flinging large mailings at me as a potential donor.

Please, actually engage or leave me alone.

How Much Information Do You Want?

This is part three of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here’s a link to the series intro.

I think it’s a common phenomenon for a given organization to be absolutely convinced that it’s the most important one out there. From that standpoint, it’s understandable that information is often given out with gusto.

I can just see the meetings at some of the huge nonprodits that ask for gifts: “Why send a 1 oz mailing when you could send 5 oz?!”. “Why send a short email newsletter when you could send a enormously long one?!”

If they’d ask, I’d tell them:

The less stuff you send me, the more likely I am to read it.

Less. Please.

How Many Requests are Too Many?

This is part two of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here are links to the series intro and the first question.

How many requests are too many?

The heaping pile o mail again by Charles Williams on Flickr
"The heaping pile o' mail again" by Charles Williams on Flickr

I think that sometimes, super-dedicated, highly-motivated nonprofit development staff can get carried away with just how often they and their teams ask for contributions.

A couple years ago, my father’s cousin’s wife passed away.  In lieu of flowers, she asked that donations be made to a certain international nonprofit.  I prefer to focus on local efforts for my regular giving, but I gladly gave to them in her memory.  This organization has been clogging my snail mail at least monthly ever since, despite not ever hearing from me again.  They have not made it simple for me to switch to a different option, such as a quarterly email or an annual snail mail, and I’m neither impressed nor inspired.

My friend (the other Disgruntled Donor) told me that a few holiday seasons ago, her father’s alma mater contacted him by phone six days in a row asking for money.  Just sit on that one a moment and wonder how anyone could have possibly thought that was a good use of time or a respectful way to treat an alumnus.

I get that during tough times and toward the end of the budget year, sometimes pushes are necessary.  At some point the repetitive asking grates. It usually comes across to me as either incompetence or an arrogant assumption that the only reasonable way to spend my money is to funnel it to the pestering organization.  Neither impression inspires me (or anyone else I can think of) to give.

Organizations can avoid crossing that line by asking individuals what kind of volume of contacts they care to receive. They can ask this on a simple survey that also asks how they’d like to be contacted.  Quarterly or biannual requests work best for me, except for one or two organizations that are very close to my heart.  I’m happy to tell this to any organization who will both listen and make that communication process simple and efficient.

Where do you draw the line between what’s a reasonable request rate and what’s pestering?

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday for the third question I wish nonprofit fundraisers would ask me.

How Do You Want to Be Reached?

This is part one of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  See the series intro here.

How do you want to be reached?

I wish fundraisers would ask me how I want to be contacted.

This is not code for a focus group.  This is not a veiled suggestion for a long meeting where you can discuss my demographic’s preferences and motivations.  Just ask me.

It can be a postcard.  It can be an online survey.  It can be simple.

With a few well-placed multiple choice questions, you’d find out that I prefer to be contacted via email or social media.  You might also find out that I flat-out won’t answer the phone for people who aren’t friends, family, or coworkers.  You may also discover that I can’t stand snail mail (I elaborate on this below).

During the initial disgruntled donors discussion that spurred this series, my friend remarked that she liked when an organization just picked one way to contact her and stuck with it, for example, just four quarterly newsletters mailed to her home.  The short communications survey could find this out as well.

The message here isn’t that quarterly email newsletters are the answer.  The point is that different things annoy different people.  Since this is not difficult information to acquire, store, or act upon,  large-scale development departments should really spend more time figuring out how not to tick off their potential donors.

An Aside: My View on Snail Mail

I recently received an advancement report from my alma mater.  It weighed more than my cat, probably cost significantly more than my yearly rent to put together, and undoubtedly asked me for money.  That’s quite the mixed message.  Was it worth the cost in money and hypocrisy points to send me something I’m just going to unwedge from my mailbox, lug upstairs, then schlep back downstairs on garbage/recycling night?

Please, just email me.

What do you think?

How do you like to receive donation requests?

Which type of donation request is the most annoying to you?

The next question will appear on Friday.

The Disgruntled Donor: A Series

Last week a friend and I were talking about experiences we had as potential donors for a couple of huge nonprofits.  We were unimpressed.

Donate by Mindful One on Flickr
"Donate" by Mindful One on Flickr

I started writing a post about these points, and then I realized it was really several posts.  Thus starts my first official series: The Disgruntled Donor. It will be appearing this week and next on my regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule.

The overall theme is that nonprofit development endeavors risk becoming extremely annoying, and therefore self-defeating, when fundraising pushes don’t consider the wants and needs of their potential donors.

I’ll talk about four different questions I wish fundraising campaigns would ask me.  I’ll include nightmare stories that my friend and I discussed, as well as some suggestions for how to get on my good side as a potential landing site for my “extra” money.  Hint: potential donors have different preferences, and we can tell you what they are, and you can choose to not ignore them.

I’m hoping that writing about it might start some useful discussion for nonprofits large and small, and that it might be useful (or at least fun) for the rest of us to share stories of marketing that annoyed us.  Also, frankly, I’m interested in writing about it, and that’s always a consideration.

Here are links to the four questions I wish to be asked:

  1. How do you want to be reached?
  2. How many requests are too many?
  3. How much information do you want?
  4. What do you care about?

Uncrossed Funding Streams

Have you ever noticed how many programs out there serve only one age group?

Day 219/365 by Great Beyond on Flickr
Day 219/365 by Great Beyond on Flickr

Even when we can manage to combine some form of childcare with adult classes, it’s often not free and basically never addresses the needs older children.

This isn’t because we believe that youth and teens are unimportant, or that our students have no children, or that it’s easy for a family to be in four different places for four different services all at the same time.  It’s because the funding is dictating the structure of our services, and not the actual need.

That being said, without funding we wouldn’t have any services.


My Take on Boxtops for Education

I was pouring my cereal this morning wondering what to blog about, and one of those little Boxtops for Education rectangles looked at me the whole time, mocking me.  I have issues with them.

Don’t get me wrong: I do approve of money for schools, and I do believe that corporations should contribute to communities.  Also, I do not believe that I’m the first person to say what I’m about to say, I’d just like to say it in my own words.

Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr
Civil War Actors by lapstrake on Flickr

Overall, it strikes me as wrong that we’d need $0.10 coupons to fund K-8 education.  Put it this way:  would we accept that our cereal boxes told us to go to BoxTops4Ballistics.com to earn a dime for national security?  Is education important or not?

$0.10?  Really?

Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr
Dime 2 by mikedemers on Flickr

I’m put off, first of all, by the piddling amount offered per boxtop: ten cents.  To earn each dime, you need to harvest each boxtop and keep track of them all.  To earn any useful of money, many people need to do this, and then you then need someone to coordinate the efforts and collect the results.  It’s a lot of involvement for a little profit.

Their website says  “Each month, find exciting new opportunities to earn thousands of Bonus Box Tops for your school.”  Thousands?  Let’s say 3,000.  At $0.10 each, that’s $300.  So that’s what, three textbooks?  Over the course of the year, you could enough for one class of 36!

The Benevolent Corporation?

Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World
Book Cover: When Corporations Rule the World

Then there’s the question of how many thousands of dollars in General Mills products need to be purchased to earn another $300 for one cheap computer.  They are not hurting for money, and the presence of Boxtops on their products doesn’t hurt their sales.  These factors are naturally not mentioned on the BoxTops website.  It rubs me the wrong way that such a huge, successful corporation is giving out these tiny table-scraps with an air of such generosity.

I also have to admit that corporate involvement in schools, even to share some of their wealth, worries me.  Successful corporations succeed because they put their own interests and power first.  If you haven’t thought much about their influence before, skim some David C. Korten – it’s well-researched and readable.

What Would Help?

My central objection, though, is that BoxTops nickel and dime schools whose real issue is being underfunded by millions of dollars every year.  They don’t need a trickle of funds, “earned” when individuals spend more money elsewhere; they need real support that comes automatically year after year.

I’m not saying that General Mills should be responsible for providing this.  I am saying that maybe everyone’s time and money would be better spent lobbying for sufficient government funds or researching the impact of a decently-funded education.

Concessions and Conclusion

Before I end this, I need to step back and remember that yes, small actions do make a difference.  And a whole bunch of dimes do add up to a bunch of dollars.  It’s important never to forget that.  And General Mills is giving away money to schools, which is at least something.  High-five to General Mills for doing something.

But what does it say about our commitment to education, especially education in poorer school districts, that school budgets need to be supplemented by a series of $0.10 boxtops?

On Giving and Sharing

In my previous post I talked a little about giving vs. sharing in the context of poverty and what to do about it. I’ve been thinking about it more since I wrote it, and I think there’s something to the idea.

It’s very grand and dramatic to be constantly giving all you’ve got. In many ways it’s what we’re “supposed” to do. I also hear frequent praise of people who never take but always give. The dirty little secret is that if all you do is give, you will run out of resources to give, be they material or emotional.

Sharing, photo by FuriousGeorge81 on Flickr
Sharing, photo by FuriousGeorge81 on Flickr

Giving is uni-directional. It comes with power politics, careful tallies,  assumed rights, and often times a very high horse. Giving has to be paired with taking.  So maybe the key is to not be focused on giving so much as on sharing.

Sharing flows in all directions. It doesn’t worry about tallying up everyone’s contributions. When it’s done openly and sensitively, it can just keep on going. At risk of using ambiguous jargon, it’s sustainable.

Thinking about life in general through the “sharing” lens feels really refreshing to me right now, so I’m planning to sit with the idea for a while.  Some of the questions I’m asking myself that maybe you’d like to ask yourself too:

  • How would your relationships be different if you shared your time (or your ear, heart, wisdom, patience, etc.) instead of giving it?
  • Would it change your relationship with your job, or your interactions with strangers?
  • Would you be more inclined to share your money with organizations instead of giving it?
  • How would it feel to receive if you were sharing and not giving?