4 Holiday Fundraising Gimmicks That Everyone Hates: Advice for Campaigners

Suggested donations: a fundraising tactic that can insult potential donors

The holiday season can be the best time of the year for retailers and fundraisers alike -- or it can yield disappointing results that will affect your entire fiscal year. Non-profit fundraisers are in fierce competition for available donations -- but not all fundraising campaigns are equal. Here are four tactics that we think are the worst, and may in fact drive potential donors away.

  1. “Honey, where are those return address labels that the charity sent us? I really want to use them,” said nobody. Ever. (Especially now that we send and receive most of our holiday cards online.) It’s wasteful to produce them, but if you even get the spelling of our name right on the unsolicited stationery or other “free junk” we have all received at some point or another, it then strikes us as more wasteful to throw it straight into the garbage. Thus it becomes clutter that we stick in a drawer and regard resentfully every time we go looking for batteries or tape. Fundraising campaigns with free junk, according to our fundraising expert, do guilt people into donating, but tend to raise smaller than average amounts. Useless swag is still useless, even if it’s free. Think of the environment when creating -- and mailing -- items that are supposed to solicit donations. If you must send unsolicited merchandise, think of what people might actually use and be grateful for, to put your organization in a good light. Find a useful item your brand can own, like War Amps key chain tags, and you’re less likely to get blowback from the recipients.
  2. Recently we received a letter from an organization, complete with a heart-wrenching story and cute picture of little Liam or Emma, that we thought was very touching…Until we got to the donation slip. You know the one, “Yes! I would like to help organization ABC continue to care for Liam and make Emma smile again.”Suggested donations: A fundraising tactic that may have potential donors cringing Only, where we would normally fill in the pledge amount, there were tick boxes -- options for large, specific sums that one could donate. The mid-range sum had an annotation suggesting that this amount would actually make a difference. Is the message here that if I can only afford to give a lesser amount, I shouldn’t bother?Suggested donations like this are insulting to those considering giving to your cause. Donors and volunteers want to be useful and appreciated, so try not to insult them and be grateful for what they can give.
  3. Some fundraising campaigns are too cool for school, using too much slang and addressing potential donors in an overly familiar way that won’t appeal to all audiences. “Hey Suzie, you’re late to the game!” doesn’t make Suzie want to donate to the cause because it implies that she is failing at something that she may not even know about. Make sure to introduce your cause and tailor your campaign communications to the audience segments you are trying to reach -- if you think seniors are going to be your best supporters, don’t salute them with “Hey!” If you’re aiming for young professionals, don’t overwhelm them with wordy prose or printed materials. And whomever you’re talking to, make it convenient to donate.
  4. Our last pet peeve about fundraising campaigns -- and maybe we’re overly sensitive about this as writers and communicators -- is poorly written letters. Sending out requests for donations with typos and grammatical mistakes makes your organization look unprofessional and harms your credibility. Have your fundraising communications written and proofread by professionals for best results.

All this is not to say that direct mailing fundraising campaigns are bad. We’ve seen some great ones. For example, this plantable wildflower seed coaster came with a request to donate to the Graphic Designers of Canada Foundation. On the back of the card are suggestions of non-monetary ways to help the GDC Foundation.

We’re sending in a small donation… and we’re looking forward to growing our wildflowers in the spring!

Best wishes for a happy fundraising holiday season!