I used to love the old Calvin and Hobbes comics in the newspaper. And I’ve never forgotten one that appeared on July 7, 1995 on fundraising which has particular relevance to political fundraising. It went like this:
Calvin (to Hobbes) – I’m writing a fundraising letter
Calvin – The secret to getting donations is to depict everyone who disagrees with you as the enemy. Then you explain how they’re systematically working to destroy everything you hold dear.
Calvin – It’s a war of values! Rational discussion is hopeless! Compromise is unthinkable! Our only hope is well-funded antagonism, so we need your money to keep up the fight!
Hobbes – How cynically unconstructive.
Calvin – Enmity sells!
Yep, enmity sells. It’s a well-worn, oft-used strategy in direct mail fundraising. And I was reminded of it when I read the following column by Jeff Brooks of Future Fundraising Now who described a somewhat similar strategy that is extremely effective…but makes some folks’ butt cheeks pucker up.
Just remember: Successful fundraising ain’t for the meek, the timid or the bashful.
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Fundraising When Times are Tough
By Jeff Brooks/Future Fundraising Now
Check out the first few paragraphs of this fundraising appeal, written by Sean Triner for the Starlight Children’s Foundation of Australia:
This is the most important letter I have ever written.
Starlight is facing an unprecedented financial crisis which is forcing me and my team to make decisions I never imagined we would face just twelve months ago. Decisions that will impact the lives of thousands of sick Australian children this year.
Even when I wrote to supporters at the end of March, I was not sure what action we would need to take to keep the essential core of Starlight’s work going. I knew I might have to cut services, but things are tougher than I imagined.
Without your help, the cuts I will be forced to make will need to be even more drastic than they are already.
If you can’t — or are not allowed to — write a letter like this, you aren’t really in the fundraising profession.
The sad truth is, many — maybe most — organizations [and campaigns] would never let this letter go out. They’d dislike the urgent tone. The open admission of trouble would give them the willies. For many, this would violate the dictates of the brand guidelines, which mandate a sunny, hopeful tone at all times.
And that’s too bad, because donors flock to support organizations [and campaigns] that come to them with messages like this. Because donors really care about the organizations they support. And they want to make a meaningful difference. They’re thrilled and honored to be part of a rescue.
You should never say you’re in an “unprecedented financial crisis” unless you really are. And that means (I hope) that letters like this are rare. But when times are hard (as they have been for many organizations the last few years), you owe it to your donors to be frank and realistic with them.
That’s what real fundraisers do.