Friday, April 2, 2010

Guilt and Shame are BAD for Fundraising

Before I get started, let me make a big, fat caveat - I'm a donor to CARE.  I love this organization and the work that they do.  In particular, I'm a big supporter of their efforts to empower women all over the world to lead productive, satisfying lives.  What I don't like is this appeal because it makes me feel guilty and ashamed.

Guilt and shame are bad for fundraising. They're also redundant, because I already feel SO overwhelmed by all of the perils and problems of this world.  (Really, my superego bashes me enough.)

While an appeal like this one might get you dollars, it won't GIVE DONORS the psychic reward they crave - that warm, fuzzy feeling that lets them know that they are helping to change the world and make a difference.  That they are good folks.  Instead, when people donate in response to a guilt trip they feel relief but mostly it's because you're finally off their back!

Here is another story.  I co-chaired the annual giving campaign at my church last year.  And let me tell you I was dismayed by the number of parishioners who didn't pledge to our church.  (You should know, I attend a mid-class/upper mid-class suburban church and most of the parishioners have the means to give.) I had to force myself to resist my desire to guilt and shame people into giving, "Hey, look at all of the other folks in the church who give!" "As member of our community, don't you want to help BUILD as well as share in the wealth of our parish?"  "I know you just remodeled your kitchen. How 'bout swinging some of that cash our way so we can make sandwiches for the homeless!"  :)

Luckily, I resisted my snarky voice and tried to take a higher ground. Why?  Well, I would have made a few enemies.  But seriously guilt trips simply don't work.

People have their own reasons for giving to charity and churches.  Sometimes the trigger is finding the right person to make the "ask."  Sometimes the key to unlocking a donor's wallet is getting them involved in the mission/ministry of your work.  But (and here's the punch line) if your goal is to build LONG TERM, ENRICHING RELATIONSHIPS it's important to be patient, stalwart and kind.  Don't badger people into making donations.  Bring them along in a loving and kind way.



Mazarine said...

Dear Jocelyn,

Thanks for posting about guilt and shame. I do believe that fundraisers rush into trying to figure out how to get donors to give.

They don't parse donors into different groups with different reasons for giving, and target their appeals at them accordingly,

I also think that they want to make you cry so you'll give. But the sad thing is that a personal appeal in person can make you cry, while a nonprofit using shame and guilt tactics in a newspaper is just going to make you turn the page. It may be that we have gotten callous to these appeals, but so many have been made at this point that at some point we have to tune them out.

Nonprofits need to realize that there are business minded donors, communitarians, socialites, and other types of donors, all with different reasons for giving, NONE of which involve shame and guilt. I write more about the different kinds of donors on my blog,

Sean Kline said...


As someone who now spends considerable time fundraising, I really appreciate your reminder of what we're all after--giver and asker alike--long term, enriching relationship that support good change in the world.


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