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Non-profit Marketing: When Asking for Donations Does More Damage than Good

Avatar of Pulse Marketing By Pulse Marketing

I work with many non-profits, both as a volunteer and as a marketing consultant.  From each perspective, I have recently noticed a new trend (and a bad one) – people are getting sick of being asked for money. That’s not to say that the general public doesn’t want to support non-profit causes; they’re just feeling overwhelmed by the number of organizations cornering them from every angle. So, last month I decided to do some research on my own.

Here’s what I came up with:

As a donor, I get solicited multiple times per day – at the grocery store checkout, at the pharmacy, at MacDonald’s, at Marden’s, by my daughter’s PTO and Girl Scout troop, by the various sports teams and troops in my neighborhood, and by various solicitation letters at work for local non-profit organizations. The list goes on and on. Last week, during a five-day adventure through Maine, Massachusetts, and Florida, I received 27 requests to donate money via email, LinkedIn, direct mail, and in person. That is more than five solicitations per day, which made saying ‘No, thank you’ just as easy as refusing a cigarette!

As a solicitor approaching prospects in person, I noticed that more and more people avoid eye contact, look down, and say, ‘No thank you.’  Email responses have also been less than promising, with open rates much lower than previous years, and ROI has even gone down for direct mail.  Finally, when calling people at home, we get a range of reactions between sighs, annoyance, and support – as clear an indicator as you can get that the intrusion isn’t welcome.

The truth is, by directly and persistently asking for donations, non-profits may be doing more damage to their brands than raising money for their causes. During a Girl Scout Troop Leadership meeting this week, many leaders in my region shared that most of their troop members were soliciting for at least 2 or 3 causes at the same time (GS, sport team, and PTO), which affected the overall sales of their troops.

Most people are compassionate and want to help.  Most people want to make a difference and contribute to a better society. Some non-profits, however, are not approaching fundraising in the most effective way. Instead of trying to market their cause as a valuable investment, they’re simply asking for money – or begging, as some people would say. That’s not only annoying (as evening telemarketers interrupting dinner time), but it’s also unproductive. As non-profit marketers, rather than sending out massive email and direct mail campaigns, cornering people at supermarkets, or knocking on people’s doors with a can, we should  focus more on communicating the value our causes bring to the community –showing potential donors how we use their funds, and more importantly, how our work can make the community better.

Non-profit marketers need to approach their development campaigns the same way for-profit marketers do: with solid market research, a strategic plan that includes a unique selling proposition (you are ‘selling’ a cause, so what makes you different from the other non-profits?), and a stellar product (how does your non-profit work to accomplish its mission, how successful have you been, and why should a sponsor choose to work with your cause?).

Consumers have become extremely savvy in the past decade, and their decision-making processes are similar whether buying a new tablet or selecting a cause to support: they want the best value.  Non-profits  must be competitive and promote a compelling cause, or they will start noticing more and more people saying ‘No, thank you,’ instead of ‘Tell me more’, or ‘How can I become a part of you mission?’  So, for the love of your fundraising campaign, please take a moment to review your strategy, and start looking at your supporters as ‘paying customers,’ and not as ‘nice people with big hearts.’ In essence, I am proposing that you change your begging strategy for a value strategy – I bet you’ll see the difference soon!

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