Are We Expecting Less from our Donors?

BFG screen captureI’m in the middle of reading “The War for Fundraising Talent” by Jason Lewis. The book is about more than just attracting and retaining talented fundraising professionals, it’s about how nonprofits are addicted to “cheap” money, to chasing a fundraising ratio and not creating deep relationships with their donors, which leads to fundraising talent looking for opportunity elsewhere.

This book was on my mind as I opened multiple emails from many organizations on March 1st announcing their participation in “Brackets for Good.” BFG is a 501c3 organization based in Indiana, whose mission is to “activate new donors and increase awareness for other nonprofit organizations through competitive, online fundraising.”

MN brackets

The competition looks like any bracket you may see this time of year, except that instead of college basketball teams they pit nonprofits against each other. Each week, whichever nonprofits raised the most money online goes on to the next week’s bracket.

This sounds good, right? Attract new donors, raise awareness, all using a smooth, online marketing machine that none of these nonprofits had to pay for.  It’s a win-win, even if you lose.

Yet, if the goal is to attract new donors, then why did I receive emails from the 4 or 5 organizations I currently support, asking me to get involved in Brackets for Good?

If I were to participate in this competition on a chosen charity’s behalf, I need to see where they’re at in the brackets and give just enough each week to make sure they advance to the next bracket. If I typically give a $100 donation to a nonprofit, I need to strategically choose when and how much of that $100 I’m going to give each week.

As a donor, helping a nonprofit move ahead in the brackets is not much of an incentive to give more than the $100 that they would’ve gotten anyways. Unlike Giving Tuesday or Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, nonprofits who move on are not eligible for additional grant or matching money.

Are many donors actually incentivized to give more by these contests? I would rather give more by hearing from the organization on what their goals are and why they need more, then I would feel like my gift was really doing good. Just helping them move ahead in a bracket isn’t enough of an incentive for me to give more, maybe it’s just me.

So now I’ve divvied up a single $100 gift into small amounts, trickled over several weeks, and will feel like I did my part to support a nonprofit.

According to Jason’s book, this is exactly the kind of shallow relationship nonprofits are developing with donors, what he calls “arms-reach fundraising.” Are online competitions and giving days helping or hurting fundraising in the U.S.?

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