One of the most important principles of fundraising is this: What people say about their charity has little to do with what they do.
Once you believe that, you'll stop taking terrible advice.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's evidence from Nick Aldridge's blog: Does actual giving behaviour match expressed giving preferences?
This interesting study compares what some UK survey respondents said they'd give £1 to with what people actually gave £1 to on eBay, when asked to donate during the checkout process.
- "Help small UK charities stay open and help local people" did well in the survey but poorly in real giving.
- "Give a child in Kosovo a pair of shoes and warm gloves that they can wear to school" did poorly in the survey but pretty well in real giving.
... potential donors may turn out be more responsive to simple, emotive imagery than they claim or indeed believe. Conversely, donors may overestimate their interest in discriminating between causes on rational grounds. In shaping fundraising campaigns or messages, fundraisers should not imagine that potential givers will make a rational judgment in response.
The important thing here is this: People's opinions and their actions do not line up. Don't expect them to. And don't build your brand or fundraising platform based on what people tell you in surveys or focus groups.
Telling someone "I'd give to that" is a fundamentally different action from actually giving to it. When you just say you'd give, you have no skin in the game. It's easy to say yes because it's politically correct or because you think saying yes will make you look good. That's why complex and intellectual offers do well when people are asked about them.
But when it actually comes to shelling out money, a different dynamic is in play. You respond to what actually moves you, not what you think should move you -- or what you think others think should move you.
That's why the offers that work best are super-simple, emotional, and often a bit short-sighted. Providing a meal for a hungry child will always beat creating systems that keep the child from going hungry.
You can spend your whole fundraising career trying to change this fundamental quirk of the human mind -- and you'll have a miserably unsuccessful career. Or you can work with people as they really are -- and raise more money to actually get stuff done.
I'd choose the latter.
Thanks to Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog for the tip.