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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Is Yours a “Deserving Charity?”

by Tom Ahern

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

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; and a terrific mom.
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.

Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards
ALSO BY THIS AUTHOR: Today, countless organizations are raising more money with their newsletter than with traditional mail appeals. And after reading Tom Ahern’s book, How to Raise More Money with Newsletters than You Ever Thought Possible, you may be able to do the same.

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 Sparky [Dianna's dog] needed his operation.
3. They send me thank you notes each time I give money. They sent my son 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 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 school did) are deeply ignorant of the basic emotional underpinnings behind lasting philanthropy.


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