Why Wouldn’t You Give? Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about charitable giving lately. Partially because I’m just a few days away from a fundraiser that I’ve spent the last 5 months working on. And partially because I think about random things at random times.

Actually, think it started with a few people who asked me to contribute to their causes in the wrong ways this past summer. If any of you read this, please don’t take offense, and perhaps you have some thoughts you can share in the comments:

  1. I got a mass e-mail from an online friend who I hadn’t talked to or e-mailed with in over a year asking for me to help her campaign to run a 5k for breast cancer awareness.
  2. I got an e-mail from a real-life friend saying that she was way behind on her campaign to run a 5k for a charity (I can’t remember which one) and she wanted to see if I could help out. This friend’s salary is three times bigger than mine.
  3. I saw a Facebook posting from a friend that I’ve drifted out of touch with saying that her business school class had to raise a large amount of money within 48 hours for a charity.
Disclaimer: In general, I’m not a fan of awareness campaigns. I’m sure they have their merits, but come on–isn’t everyone aware of cancer by now? Maybe someone can explain why an awareness campaign for cancer is better than a campaign to cure cancer. I guess maybe the idea is that if more people are aware of, say, breast cancer, they might go in for a mammogram and catch the cancer early. But in this day and age, if someone isn’t aware of something like that, isn’t that their own fault? I mean, I don’t use some campaign to remind me to do a self check in the shower every now and then. I just do it. (And yes, now you have to picture me doing a self check. That’s what you get out of reading this mini-rant.)

Here’s how I responded to those three requests (or lack thereof, in the last case):

  1. I deleted the e-mail. I can think of 20 things wrong with the way that person presented her campaign. There are so many better, more engaging ways to fundraise.
  2. I know this friend can handle blunt advice, so I helped her with her campaign. She had waited way too long to jumpstart the fundraising, and she hadn’t even set a goal. So I had her set a very reasonable goal, and she sent out an e-mail to close friends and relatives explaining why she was passionate about the cause and how she was committing her time, energy, and funds to it. I also made a donation. She came very close to meeting her goal, and she sent me a handwritten thank you note, which was the perfect touch to close the ask (which sets me up in a really nice way for next year’s campaign, should she try again).
  3. This one was peculiar, because unlike #1, I was ever so slightly insulted that this person didn’t ask me to give, just as I was insulted that #1 did ask me to give. This is the magic of fundraising–if you’re raising money for a cause that you truly believe in, you’re giving the donor an opportunity to give. You’re sharing your passion with them, and you’re letting them feel good about something that they otherwise probably wouldn’t have known about. In this particular case, it was a business school exercise for my friend, and although I didn’t care about the charity, I wanted my friend to look good in front of her new classmates. I wanted to help. She could have done a lot better than putting a few posts on Facebook. Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to see the post, and I contributed to the cause. I got a Facebook wall post in response, which, as I’ve discussed on the blog, is the lowest form of communication known to man. Disappointing.

I’m going to continue the topic of charitable giving tomorrow, as I have some thoughts and questions about why some people choose not to give, but I want to leave you with a few tips on running a fundraising campaign, especially small, personal ones. I’m sure I’m leaving out some good tips, so if you’ve run an effective personal campaign and have some tips, feel free to comment.

  • Don’t send out a blast. When you e-mail people asking them to give, if possible, avoid the mass e-mail at all costs. These people are giving you their money–can’t you spend the time to personalize your e-mails to them? Better yet, send them a letter–a form letter is fine, but include a little handwritten note at the bottom. If for some reason you absolutely must send out an e-mail to more than one person, BCC all recipients. There is no excuse for not doing that.
  • Be selective about your donor targets. I’m leading off with this because it’s the most important and most widely abused. Do not do what #1 did and send out an e-mail blast to your entire inbox. Just because you have the biggest net doesn’t mean you’ll catch the right fish or the most fish. Instead, go through your contacts and pick out (a) people whose causes you’ve contributed to, (b) people who have been affected by your cause, (c) your closest friends and family, (d) a few others who you think deserve to know about the campaign. In other words, be selective. Is there ever a good time to post on Facebook or Twitter? Sure. That’s different than littering someone’s inbox. But do it very selectively–maybe once at the beginning of the campaign and once near the end when you’re trying to close the final gap.
  • Make it personal. When you ask people for money, tell a story. Teach them a little about yourself that they didn’t know before, and in that, show them why this cause or campaign means something to you. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a personal connection to the charity. Maybe you haven’t had someone close to you die of lung cancer. But there’s a reason you’re doing this campaign, and that reason is worth sharing. In fact, you must share it. Otherwise you’re just running a meaningless 5k, and you can do that on your own time.
  • Declare a goal. The best thing about goals is that you can beat them. Thus, set a low bar for yourself and then wildly exceed your expectations. But you need that goal, that barometer of success. That way when you get within $50 of the goal, you can say to people, “All I need is $50 to make my goal!” Then someone gets to feel good about being the person who puts you over the top.
  • Even a dollar can help. Studies show that including the simple phrase, “Even a dollar will help” can significantly improve not only the number of people who give, but also the amount given per individual. You’d think it would go down, because people who were going to give $20 now might only give a few dollars, but it has the opposite effect. People actually give more, and more often.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Contribute to your own campaign. If you have the funds, match every dollar that’s donated. It’ll show people that you truly do believe in the cause, and it’ll inspire them to give.
  • Create rewards. I haven’t played around much with this one, but I bet that gamifying a fundraising campaign could put the “fun” in “fundraising” (if you’ve read this far and had to suffer through that joke, I sincerely apologize. I just ruined all of my credibility). I’m thinking that it could be fun to have certain slots or goals for people to fill, like a reward for the first person to give or the person to give the most or the person who helps you break your goal, etc. That way many people get to feel like they’ve achieved something and that they helped you achieve something.
  • Surprise the person with your thank you. This can mean many different things, but basically, take the Zappos approach and wow your customer. Make them remember that you thanked them. It doesn’t even need to be a thank-you card or a phone call.
  • Send updates. During the campaign, send a few updates to let people know how you’re doing. Send one more after you successfully complete the campaign, and then another after the run (if it’s a run-for-a-cause). Then–here’s the secret sauce–send one final update 6 months down the road that shows the impact the person’s gift had on you and/or your charity.
Tell me about the last time someone asked you to donate and you chose not to, and why. Also, see Part 2 of this entry here.