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Don’t get spooked by scary fundraising missteps. Turn those tricks into treats

Don’t get spooked by scary fundraising missteps. Turn those tricks into treats

October 28, 2022
Margaret Battistelli Gardner

It’s Halloween! Let’s knock on some doors and see what tricks befall us. Maybe we can conjure up a few treats, as well. 

Scary door #1: The “Stop Direct-Mail Acquisition” Trick 

This door, decorated for the holiday with dollar bills, is tempting — but knock at your own risk. If this disaster dressed up for Halloween, its costume would be a siren. So tempting. So sexy. Calling to you with mellifluous promises of cost savings and black ink on the annual ledger. 

But that siren call is one expensive song. This is the house that gives out stale popcorn balls — they seem like a good idea, but it quickly becomes apparent they’ll leave your mouth as dry as your donor funnel.  

How to turn it into a treat: You can’t. Avoid this house altogether. Don’t stop direct-mail acquisition. Cut back, if you need to, in tough economic times. Refocus, dig deeper into your files. Send out more compelling packages. But don’t wash your hands of those pesky, expensive acquisition efforts. If you do, the bone-chilling effects will ripple through your database for years to come. 

Scary door #2: The “Going Social Unprepared” Trick 

This sweet door is all glowing and bright and fairy-dusty. Wait, is it even a door — or is it just a portal made of champagne, glitter and that stuff from inside a lava lamp? This disaster’s Halloween costume no doubt would be a fairy, flitting from social media site to social media site, sprinkling random posts all over the place. 

But fairies are fickle, and that dust ends up in the darnedest places. Once it does, it’s not easy to extract. Behind this door, you’ll find a lackadaisical intern overseeing social media. Or a staff that has been charged with keeping social media updated but doesn’t have a clue how to do that. You might even run into an executive director who’s on board with social media because — boy, howdy! — the organization is going to raise a million bucks on “the Facebook” this year. This is the house that gives out Zotz from 1972. They’re pretty and sweet, then all of a sudden … an explosion of fizzy awfulness puckers your face and burns your nostrils from the inside.  

How to turn it into a treat: Get a social media plan. Know where your intended audience is. Use social media to entice, engage, educate. Don’t make every post a pitch.  If you want to get social media friends, you have to be a social media friend. Let go of the old hit-and-run mentality of donor/customer messaging, and stick around to be part of the conversation.  

(Note: Any good social media plan starts with full understanding by the powers that be. Paint a clear picture of how you’ll measure success. No, you will not be raising a million dollars on Facebook this year. But you very well could increase your number of “friends” by 500. Or you very well could plan to post a video a week. Or use Twitter to drive people to your website. Outline some reasonable goals, so your execs know what to expect and what to celebrate — even if it doesn’t mean an immediate influx of dollars.) 

Scary door #3: The “Walking Dead Board” Trick 

This door is pretty dusty. Cobwebs galore. And what’s that smell? For Halloween, this disaster would be an army of the undead, trudging slowly across … oh heck, those aren’t costumes — those are your board members. They’ve not only gathered moss, they’ve grown roots. The candy you get here is old Turkish Taffy. It looks brittle because it is brittle. And any snazzy flavor it had is long gone.  

How to turn it into a treat: Fire those bad boys up! Bring someone your organization has helped into your board meetings. Or bring in some front-line volunteers who give of their time just because they care about your mission. Remind your board members of what you do, and why it matters. Empower them to contribute in ways that feel right to them. A lot of board members are terrified by the thought of fundraising. But can they host an ice-breaker? Make introductions to friends with the capacity and propensity to give? Get on the phone and be part of a thank-a-thon? Sure, they can. Your board wants to help … so help them help you. And if they really, really don’t want to help … think about what has to happen to put in place the board your organization deserves. 


Margaret Battistelli Gardner

Margaret Battistelli Gardner is the podcast coordinator for Lighthouse Counsel and also has been crafting fundraising communications for Lighthouse clients since 2008. She has been a writer and editor for more than 30 years. From 2003 to 2015, Margaret was editor-in-chief of FundRaising Success magazine and currently is a communications specialist for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.