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Not Time To Cry Wolf

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 @ 4:40:00 PM
A great post from the Chronicle of Philanthropy...

April 28, 2009
Keep Dire Talk Out of Fund-Raising Letters

As the recession continues to squeeze donations to nonprofit organizations, fund raisers are feeling increased pressure to refer to their economic hardships in their written appeals to donors.

But is it really a smart idea to mention the recession in fundraising letters?

Two prominent direct mail fund raising experts answer that question with a resounding "no".

"I strongly recommend that you do not complain about how hard the recession is impacting your organization," said Mal Warwick, a consultant and author of the new book Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future.

Instead, Mr. Warwick told participants in today's Chronicle live discussion on direct mail appeals to focus their letters on what they're doing to adapt to the tough times.

"Tell your donors what steps you're taking to tighten your operations, trim costs, and deliver services even more efficiently to your beneficiaries," he said. "Tell them how much further their gifts will go now. And make sure they know that 'the need' doesn't simply continue but is more urgently and more widely needed than ever."

Groups that are facing large financial deficits should also resist the urge to cry poor, says Brenda Helget, program manager for annual giving and communications at Methodist Hospital Foundation, in Omaha.

Ms. Helget says telling donors about a financial deficit doesn't encourage them to give. It sends up a red flag that their donation might be going to support a group that isn't fiscally sound.

"Use emotion," she said. "Make it heartwarming-- numbers and statistics aren't heartwarming."

For more advice from Mr. Warwick and Ms. Helget on direct-mail strategies, read the transcript of the live discussion.

--Peter Panepento