Fundraising Myths: No 1: Cheap is good, free is better

So, at the risk of never working again in this sector, here’s a confession. I don’t know the secret of great fundraising. I really don’t. You want a fundraising miracle? Sorry, need to go elsewhere. But what I do know is how to avoid doing really bad fundraising. And, I rather think that’s as least as important.

Really bad fundraising in my experience, very commonly happens because someone has fallen for one of the great myths about this funny business of ours, really works. There are seven which between them account for a great deal of the problem. In no particular order, here’s the first

Cheap is good, free is better. Stands to reason doesn’t it? If you pay less for a fundraising product or service (or staff) or better still, get it for free, your results will be better. Well, sometimes. But at least as often the paying peanuts and getting monkeys rule applies. Free can be even worse, the classic example being free ads from creative agencies. The big shiny agency approaches the humble little charity and offers to do an ad for them for free? What could possibly go wrong?

This. Jeff Brooks’ Stupid Non-profit ads site is filled with examples of ads the agencies did for charities for free, solely so they could win one of the awards advertising folk love so much. Not are these ads, even when they come with free media, completely useless (they neither raise money or awareness or anything except agency egos), they can be actively harmful. One of my (least) favourites is an agency who I won’t name who produces this ad for WWF Brasil (scroll down to the end). Yep, you got that right, comparing the environmental crisis to 9/11. And they then entered the ad for an award in the US. I was there when the President of WWF US saw it for the first time. I can still remember the look on his face…

No, no, no. Good fundraising advertising is like any good communications, it need a clears objective (raising money might be an idea) and a single minded focus on achieving that based on an understanding of the audience it’s aimed at and the channel you are using. It needs careful thought by able people who have had experience of this sort of thing and takes time to get right. In short, it costs.

By all means make sure that you buy these sort of services wisely. Negotiate hard. Use every low trick at your disposal to get the best deal. But my advice, is that if you want quality, be prepared to pay for it.

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