When Fund-Raising Jeopardizes Donor Relationships

Posted on 27. May, 2009 by in Customer Relationships

An Open Letter to PBS Channel Thirteen – New York City

On  or about April 23 of this year my wife and I received a relatively unique video plea from you to contribute to Thirteen during an “Emergency Campaign”.  Because we believe in the value of public television and enjoy your programming, we responded…fairly generously in these times.  The timing of this contribution, as your records should indicate was extraordinary, as we generally make only one gift at the end of each calendar year.

You correctly acknowledged our gift and my wife and I took satisfaction knowing we’d helped in a time of need and our commitment to Channel Thirteen was strengthened in the process.

Then, on May 8 – approximately 15 days later, we received an email thanking us for the previous donation and asking if we couldn’t make “one more gift”!  We disregarded this disappointing follow-up solicitation.  Now, on the Saturday afternoon of the Memorial Day weekend, I just hung up on your second telephone call asking for yet another donation!!

As a loyalty specialist, I have to say I’m appalled by your brazen pursuit of our pocketbook and in so doing your apparent disregard for the relationship my wife and I feel we have with Thirteen.  It would appear fundraising at Thirteen is ruled by RFM (recency, frequency and monetary value).  This is a customer scoring tool which I (and many other writers) have hoped to make obsolete.  It is a technique which disregards a donor’s relationship with an organization in favor of maximizing immediate revenue generation.  It exploits a small segment of a donorbase until they are either dried up or have been chased away.  Most of the not-for-profits that I work with have evolved from this outdated donor pursuit system to more realistic, relationship-sensitive scoring and management systems.  In addition, organizations are beginning to modify their outreach respecting the donor’s calendar, not being selfishly driven by their own, internal, campaign-oriented calendar.

I’m deeply disappointed that Thirteen believes it should continue to pursue (and harass) those “members” who were compassionate enough to respond to its “special” outreach.  Apparently it wasn’t that special….and apparently the station is more than willing to jeopardize relationships with long-standing members to simply make another “quick buck”.  Let me remind you, charitable giving depends on trust in the organization and a strong emotional bond.  When a donor senses he or she is valued only for the size and frequency of his/her giving rather than the longevity of his/her support, the donor’s continued participation is put at risk.  Too many donors, these days, have already become cynical of their role with charitable organizations.  They sense they’re only objects of revenue-generation, not truly valued members.  The proof?  The primary reason they hear from organizations is to be asked for more money.

These are, indeed, tough times for not-for-profits.  But even more important then, that not-for-profits guard and nurture the trust and relationship that current supporters believe they share with the organization.  The exploitative tactics of RFM-driven appeals will only drive members away.


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One Response to “When Fund-Raising Jeopardizes Donor Relationships”

  1. Doug Pruden

    01. Jun, 2009

    RFM has been the approach of choice for direct marketers for years and years. For catalogers, for example, it

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