don’t forget the bad news

The one missing ingredient in most fundraising messaging is the bad news. Hopefully, when you communicate with your donors (and prospective donors) you help them understand the problem your ministry solves. I’m sure you tell them how you go about dealing with the problem. Maybe you even tell them how they will be different and better by joining in your cause…

But…do you tell them what happens if your work doesn’t go on?

Of course, it’s not about budget or guilt. It’s about helping people who love you understand the consequences of their inaction.

Go ahead, help us understand the downside of ignoring your appeal. The hard part is to resist heaping on the guilt or making about your budget.

Give us the consequences, it’ll help us make a good decision.

What do you think about giving the bad news to donors? Does it feel like manipulation or guilt? I’d love to know what you think about it.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: laszlo-photo)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

7 thoughts on “don’t forget the bad news”

  1. Pingback: Four tough questions behind truth-filled tales of organizational impact | Generous Matters

  2. Giving them the bad news is an interesting idea. I’m just not sure it would work for us. We founded our nonprofit, Athletes Joined Against Spondylitis, with three goals: first to raise awareness of ankylosing spondylitis, second to raise funds to help the un- and underinsured get treatment and support, and finally to raise funds to find a cure for this crippling form of arthritis. The disease is not directly fatal, although some of the other conditions it causes can ultimately kill those who have it. AS affects mostly young men between the ages of 15 and 35, which describes 80% of paintball players. Since one of our co-founders is a paintball player, we go to paintball events across the country to spread the word about the disease.

    So here’s what our bad news would look like:
    1) We would still go to the events — but we would pay even more money out of our own pockets to get there, because the work is that important to us.
    2) We don’t have images of starving children or abused puppies. AS patients look fairly “normal” until the disease progresses to the point that their spines are fused all the way up and their back has curved forward: Ed Sullivan had AS. What you can’t see is the pain they feel. You can’t see how difficult it is for them to get up in the morning.

    So, what bad news can we show potential donors if they choose not to donate? The work and the pain would continue. We would just continue without them, I guess.

  3. Thank you for this article.
    Our organization does emphasis on the essential work we do i.e. serving 1,200 at-risk and homebound seniors a day in three counties who would otherwise not obtain 1 nutritious meal per day, nor would get a visit from our home-delivery driver and a safety check. But you are right we do not focus on what happens if we did “not” exist. We do need to say “what will happen to the baby boomers when they become at-risk and homebound?” or “what are seniors going to do without a nutritious meal that is low in sodium and sugar?” or “what are fragile seniors going to do if we were not there once a day to check on them?” It is pretty alarming thought. This will be a good way for me to talk to potential donors in the near future. Thank you for contributing.

  4. @Wendy — Thanks so much for stopping by. I have to say I’d never heard of AS. After Googling around I know a bit more.

    Some of our Tribe may jump in with suggestions (there’s a lot of SMART people lurking in the wings around here) but here’s a couple of questions that came to mind:

    If you had less donation income, would you be able to go to the same number of events? Or if you had more money could you go to more?

    If AJAS wasn’t around, what would be missing in the world? Would less people know about AS? Would people with AS feel more isolated or would have to suffer alone? Maybe there is an emotional loss for those with AS that would be missing.

    A great question to ask in these moments, if you’re having a hard time coming up with your “bad news” is ask: “How big a hole would we leave in the world if our organization disappeared? How would we be missed? What would go undone?”

    Let’s see if anyone else has ideas they’d like to share.

    And thanks again for your comments!

  5. @Stacie — Great ideas on how to frame your “bad news”. It is frightening to imagine what would happen if you weren’t around. And as a Baby Boomer it’s something that is on my mind! Plus, if my parents were in need, I’d be even more interested in helping you.

    You’re on the right track…

    Thanks so much for dropping by…

  6. So much depends on who you are and what kind of donor you want to attract–a committed and fully-informed partner, or someone moved to write a check in the moment. Perhaps you want both, or multiple types of donors. Why not segment your donors? Appeal to them based on what you know about them and what kind of relationship you have built with them.

    Relationships deepen when the downside is shared, as well as the upside. Truthfully sharing the downside builds trust (and educates). I would not shy away from deepening the relationship whenever appropriate. But that means knowing the donor well enough to know what is appropriate for them and when. It means never manipulating people’s hopes and fears, distorting the truth, withholding important information, deliberately painting a falsely dire or optimistic picture – things which ultimately destroy trust and foster cynicism – but you know all that.

    However, if ALL donors are receiving exactly the same appeal, being treated the same, how is that respectful of the relationship? It is still a “Dear Generic Donor” appeal even if you do insert their first name. I want my good friends to treat me with a level of trust and familiarity that is greater than that which they have for someone they don’t know or don’t know well. We know how to talk to our good friends. We have earned the right to communicate at a more straight-forward, personal level. If we don’t know our donors well enough to know if we have earned that right, maybe knowing them better should be a priority.

    Sounds preachy, doesn’t it. Sorry. Have soapbox will travel, especially when commenting on blogs. Thank you all for the discussion and for allowing me to throw my 2 cents into the mix.

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