June, 2005When you consider the vast outpouring of charitable support that followed the 9/11 attacks or the South Asian tsunami, you might reasonably conclude that increased media attention is the secret to fundraising.
But those were major news events: the earth moved, literally and emotionally. And the media attention never quit. Nor should we discount the role of the Internet, which made giving easy and quick through secure online sites. Many of those gifts were, in effect, impulse purchases, spur of the moment decisions. And experience shows that relatively few impulse givers ever make a second gift.
On a local level, things are different anyway.
Even if your organization is in the newspaper a lot, most people still won't know much about you. Why? Because the newspaper is a crowded environment serving a mass market. The vast majority of readers are not deeply interested in your work, so they fail to take much notice. You're "here today, gone tomorrow," just one of dozens of stories.
Even more important: news stories generally do not have any call to action ("Please send a gift to the following address…"), so no checks roll in. Burn this into your brain: people give because they are asked to give (and that goes for bequests, too, not just annual gifts).
When there is no "ask," nothing much happens. The fantasy that someone out there will read about your organization and spontaneously write you a large check is just that, a fantasy…at least, statistically speaking. Miracles happen, of course. But well-managed fundraising programs don't count on them. Which is exactly why that $4,500 month visibility campaign will almost certainly be a flop.
By the way, the real value of a news article about your organization isn't at the moment it appears, but in the many photocopies you will make to share with prospects over the months and years to come.
[Thanks to Simone Joyaux for suggesting the topic! She works on board and fund development with organizations across the U.S. and sees this distracting issue of "increased community visibility" come up again and again.]
Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's leading authorities on how to make nonprofit communications consistently effective. He speaks frequently in the U.S. and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding. He is a writer and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other fundraising communications. He has won three prestigious Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). His offices are in Rhode Island and France.To learn more go to www.aherncomm.com