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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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"Deserving charity"? There's no such thing.
Tom Ahern

August, 2009

No one owes you a gift, as this "inside a donor's mind" report makes clear.

Dianna Huff wrote me a note about her experiences with two local charities.

Dianna is a gifted, results-driven sales copywriter; a "getting you noticed on the web" specialist; a terrific mom (judging by James, her wise and intriguing young son); a budding marathoner.

Today, though, meet her as (1) delighted donor and (2) disgusted donor.
Her note (reproduced below and only slightly tweaked to disguise the guilty) is a tale of two charities: one thriving, one dying.

The thriving charity thinks carefully about warming its donors' hearts. The dying charity takes donations utterly for granted.

Seven Reasons Why I Love Giving Money to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA)

1. They send out a well-written, full color newsletter giving me real stories about animals that have been rescued/saved by them.
2. I can go to the Nevins Farm facility a few towns over from where I live and see their rescue efforts in action. I also can see where the money is going because Nevins is a new state-of-the-art facility. I was also the benefactor of the MSPCA's "Pet Care Fund" when Simon [Dianna's dog] needed his operation.
3. They send me thank you notes each time I give money. They sent James a personalized note when he cleaned out his piggy bank and gave them $10 in rolled quarters.
4. They send me well written letters that tell me why they need my money.
5. In their letters they include little notes that read, "Your generosity already in 2009 is greatly appreciated. Thank you for continuing to help animals in need." This shows me that 1) I'm not an anonymous donor; 2) that they know I've given before; and 3) that they appreciate my previous gifts.
6. In one of their letters I received a "Certificate of Kindness" and was told to "post it with pride." Cheesy? Yes. Effective? Yes. Made me give more? Yes.
7. I feel valued for my contributions. And it shows, every time I receive a piece of information from them.
Seven Reasons Why I Refuse to Give Money to My Son's Day School
1. They send out Friday notices to the parents (donors and potential donors) that say things like: "We are very disappointed in the parents who did not participate in the Yankee Candle Fundraiser. The parent handbook states, 'All parents must fundraise.'" This ticked me off. As a donor, it is my prerogative to give when and how I want. The $300 I had earmarked for them is now going elsewhere.
2. They don't tell me where the money is going.
3. I can't see where the money is going. The facility is run down and families are leaving the school in droves.
4. As a business person, I can't in good conscience give money to a non-profit that appears to be ill managed.
5. They don't use real stories about the children at the school in any of their materials.
6. They don't address the real reason why people aren't coming to the school. They cast blame on "parents who make the wrong choice" but the problem is really the school and the people who run it.
7. I don't feel valued for my contributions.
Takeaway: Donors owe us nothing, not even a hearing. We owe them something, though: as many moments of joy as we can cram into a year.
Making a contribution, being a benefactor, feels good, neuroscience tells us. There's a pleasure center in your brain that fires up when you make a gift. When a charity enhances that joy by celebrating the contribution, one-time donors tend to become many-time donors.

When a charity ignores the joy, donors find someone else to play with. Charities that think they "deserve" support (as Dianna's day school did) are deeply ignorant of the basic emotional underpinnings behind lasting philanthropy.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America’s top authorities on nonprofit communications. He began presenting his top-rated Love Thy Reader workshops at fundraising conferences in 1999.

Since then he has introduced thousands of fundraisers in the U.S., Canada and Europe to the principles of reader psychology, writing, and graphic design that make donor communications highly engaging and successful.

He founded his consulting practice in 1990 ( His firm specializes in capital campaign case statements, nonprofit communications audits, direct mail, and donor newsletters. His efforts have won three prestigious IABC Gold Quill awards, given each year to the best communications work worldwide.

Ahern is also an award-winning magazine journalist, for articles on health and social justice issues. He has his MA and BA in English from Brown University, and a Certificate in Advertising Art from the RI School of Design. His offices are in Rhode Island and France.


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