a tragic fundraising mistake

There’s one fundraising mistake I see repeated over and over and over. I’ve read it in a bunch of direct mail letters. I’ve heard it on a phone-campaign call I took last week. I’ve seen it in at least 2 in-person presentations by nonprofits this year.

Really, I guess there are a lot of mistakes to choose from, but I’ll tell you the tragic mistake that came to mind this week.

First, here’s how it came up.

The office is crazy right now.

We’ve shipped out client gifts and Christmas cards and finished the last of this year’s meetings.
I’ve been on the road and just dropped the travel bag in a chair. We’ve been wrapping and shipping. It’s been fun pandemonium.

Hoots snapped this picture as I was finishing up this post . . . sad, but as soon as I hit publish, I’m cleaning.


In the drift of mail in my stack were a bunch of year-end proposals and Christmas appeals. Plus Christmas gifts from vendors and the general increase in mail from December. Also in the drift of mail was a packet from a business consultant I use to help me work sharper on the business side of Oneicity.

Remember, he’s a business consultant.

The letter in his packet was all about me and our company. It was focused on what he knew about us. It was crammed full of “me.” Very little was about him . . . and when it was about him it was about how he was helping me do what he’d learned I wanted done. It was surprisingly me-centric.

And then I looked through the other letters and proposals on the conference table. . . and these letters were about the nonprofit or the charity. (OK, for clarity, these weren’t Oneicity client materials—just sayin’).

This stack of letters addressed to me weren’t really about me or my interests. Once they got past the salutation (and sometimes a faux-relationship variable) it was all about the writer and their organization.

Very, very organization-centric, which is the tragic mistake.

It’s tricky stuff to communicate and avoid organization-centric messages, but you have to. It really isn’t about you or your work. It’s all about what the donor is doing and wants to do.
Talk to us about what’s important to us, not what’s important to you. That changes everything.

If you’re not dropping by the Oneicity Facebook page or haven’t liked us so we show up in your newsfeed you’re missing out on some great conversation.

I’ve been experimenting with Instagram and very short-form messaging. You’ll see them in photos on our Facebook page — for lack of a better term, I’ve been calling them “Speed Bumps” as in: an image and thought that makes you slow down and think.

So far, this is the Speed Bump that’s received the most attention. (Although I think the pig that was posted last week could beat it.)

Also, on Friday I pushed out another issue of the free newsletter/email (it’s hard to know what to call it). It’s about how you can make 2013 a better year than 2012 was. If that sounds interesting, you can sign up to get it right here.

Whatever you do, remember it’s a tough world for leaders and communicators. You have to find ways to cut through the clutter. But you can do it.

I’d love to know what your challenges are. I’d enjoy hearing what you’re doing to make 2013 your best year ever.

As always, thanks for joining in.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Steve Thomas)
Find Steve on Instragram: oneicity_st

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

3 thoughts on “a tragic fundraising mistake”

  1. Good thoughts and warnings. As non-profits, our concerns may be the same as our constituency’s…or not. The challenge will always be listening to God and the hearts of our supporters, versus talking at both. Stay attentive and nimble, Scott.

  2. “(OK, for clarity, these weren’t Oneicity client materials—just sayin’).” That’s a relief :). Your speedbumps are neat btw. As for improvements in 2013, I’m hoping to get out more hand-written notes to our friends. I did this around Sept. and even heard back from a few.

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