December brings many annual appeals to mailboxes, inboxes, and coffee shops all over the country. It’s the time of year when businesses and individuals, if they’re lucky, are looking to do a bit of year-end giving. Maybe it’s for tax purposes, perhaps they’ve taken a wait-and-see approach for the year, or it could be that the events of the year have left them wishing that they could be a part of making the world better in some small way. It could also be that over time, development offices and non-profit organizations have discovered that the most effective time of year to make an appeal is during the holidays.
The other night when the tweet above appeared in the Twittersphere, it jumped out at us. As an admittedly biased agency the first reaction was, “Oh, no. Which hospital?” The next thought was, “But glossy paper is often less expensive than uncoated!” Another reaction, “Did they ask too soon? Was your gift not adequately recognized or is it really that you think that money shouldn’t be spent on mailings?”
We decided to share the tweet with people in our non-profit network to get their take. The first response is from an equity theatre company here in Glens Falls.
“While this particular donor might respond to a black and white letter, the reality is, non-profits compete for an ever-shrinking pot of money being donated by individuals. Requests from non-profits go up every year (while available funds decrease). Organizations need to attract the attention of potential donors while projecting an image of professionalism that says it can be trusted to deliver on the promises it makes in exchange for the donation.”
—Mark Fleischer, Producing Artistic Director, Adirondack Theatre Festival
The next two responses come from the executive director of an environmental advocacy group in the area and the annual fund manager of an outdoor agency, both address the idea that things may be less expensive than they appear.
“Non-profits need to raise money from people and to do so they need to put their best foot forward. Printing costs are at an historic low, which enables organizations to put out beautiful solicitations at low cost. Given the chance to respond any non-profit would address this concern and consider using 100% recycled, environmentally sound, green publications.”
—Peter Bauer, Executive Director, Protect the Adirondacks
“Non-profits are more thrifty and strategic than ever. Less communication is taking place, so when a piece gets published, it has to look good and be engaging. A simple letter used to suffice, but people just don’t read anymore—it takes creative illustration to demonstrate what we do. Many non-profits have a network of partners and vendors who donate or discount services. ADK Mountain Club’s publications are often subsidized by advertising, and we’re doing more online to keep costs down. Still, donors want something in their hands, and it has to matter.”
—Linda Smith, Annual Fund Manager, Adirondack Mountain Club
Should non-profits be apologetic about the money they spend? Do donors expect that their money goes straight to programs, or is it reasonable to expect that a portion of the operating budget will be used for awareness? This response comes from an administrator with experience in development for both health care and higher education.
“At Paul Smith’s we publish our cost to raise a dollar; and I insist that we do this. The bottom line is to tell the truth. People want to give to a winner. Winners are transparent. With regard to the specific tweet; it takes some money to raise money. It always has, and it always will. Ask your favorite charity what it costs them to raise money. They should not only be willing to tell you, they should be happy that you asked. We need to invest in philanthropy.”
—F. Raymond Agnew, CFRE, Vice President, College Advancement, Paul Smith’s College
This last statement, from a senior administrator for a hospital on the West Coast, addresses head on the idea of critical responses to appeals.
“I will tell you the story of when we expanded Yakima’s Children’s Village—a multimillion dollar effort—we published a beautiful core piece with the help of Trampoline. It raised, along with our hard work, $7 million to serve 30,000 kids with special needs. We received one complaint about the apparent cost of the piece. I deplore criticism, and take it hard—I decided to live with it! The gains for kids outweighed one critic’s concern.
Life will always have critics, I choose to invest in the essential communications tools! They make everything happen.”
—Anne Napier Caffery, President, Memorial Foundation
We will always be in favor of awareness campaigns; this does not mean that we will always lobby for organizations to go with the most expensive option. It means that in our experience, the greatest responsibility of the people in charge of raising money for organizations is to do everything in their power to increase awareness. We started this agency to create exceptional design; sometimes it makes us money, other times it makes us heroes, and once in a great while it makes us both. Regardless of what it does for us, the end goal is always to help these organizations raise as much awareness and financial support as possible.
As you receive appeals this month, or any time throughout the year, we hope that you’ll remember the passion, strategy, and dedication represented in these responses.