In the mail this month came 4 requests for contributions from a particular charity I used to contribute to regularly.  They ought to be dominating their niche, but continue to struggle for funds.

When I worked with them a couple of years ago, they were struggling to pay each month’s basic bills, and had lost competent field workers for non-payment of support funds.  I provided them strategies that ought to have doubled their income by now.  And I suggested ways to increase their volunteer pool such that they should have needed to operate their own lodging at the charity site to handle the stream of volunteers.

They have a unique selling position in how they operate at the point of impact, but their headquarters back-office is getting in the way of resounding success.

The prevailing mindset of the charity leadership reflects the training of the Director, who had been a marketing manager in the 90s.  Even today, except for the logo, their marketing looks so dated and generic it would be hard to distinguish from the other end-of-year mailouts I got.

I’d guess they will miss-read why I gave this week, and why I picked the particular envelope to use.  There were the standard weepy-eyed children pics in one, an urgent appeal for cash to make budget, a cheery newsletter, and a matching grant offer.  I sorted through the list and gave to the one that seemed to provide the most benefit to the organization.

I know these people.  I’m guessing they’ll look at the response rates and assume that it took a matching grant letter to pull a donation out of me.  They’ll do the analysis of the results and repeat the one that garnered the most response, and will repeat it several times in the coming year.

Trouble is, I had already decided to be generous to half a dozen charities instead of spending lavishly on my family, and they were in the list.  (If there had been an offer to support a particular cause or volunteer, I might have chosen that one instead!)  They didn’t ask for my opinion of the organization, what mattered to me about what they do, about what I might support in the future.  They don’t know what it will take me to go from $50 a year to $500 a year, or what it would take for me to move from occasional donor to again be an active volunteer.

They will continue to assume they know what will work, and that they continue to struggle because the market is saturated and the economy is bad.  They will believe their own research that supports their assumptions.

And they will stay a small, struggling charity.

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