Are F‑bombs accept­able for your fundraising?

Editor’s note: Please be advised that this arti­cle con­tains very strong lan­guage that some read­ers may find offensive.

Written by
Ephraim Gopin
February 10, 2022
Is it ever ok to swear in a direct mail campaign or charity ad?

Fuck. Shit. 

Yes mom. I’ll go wash out my mouth with soap. 

Now that we got that out of the way, I have a question for you: would your organisation ever consider using either of those two words in a fundraising or marketing campaign? Before you answer ‘absolutely not!’, let’s explore the issue.

The seven words

In 1972, George Carlin first delivered one of his most famous routines: The seven words you can never say on television. (Google it. Of course, viewer discretion advised.) Fifty years later and the list is still pretty accurate. (The ‘p’ word he lists might be considered fine for broadcast TV.)

Up until a couple of years ago, I never posted the full ‘f‘’ or ‘s’ words online. I’d always replace the middle two letters with some combination of a dollar sign, exclamation point, ampersand and asterisk. It was my way of avoiding cursing in public, especially since my assumption was my online followers would not react kindly to tweets or posts containing an F-bomb.

But my thinking has changed somewhat. Fuck and shit have become more accepted as part of the language. I have no scientific evidence or data to back this claim up. It just seems to me that those two profanities are less offensive nowadays to a sizeable portion of the population.

Of course, this may be a generational thing. I’m Gen X and I used to preach ‘no cursing!’ in social posts. (To my younger readers, I can hear you thinking ‘OK Boomer!’)

Millennials and Gen Z use the ‘f’ and ‘s’ words like any other word. It may still be a curse word but it’s less offensive or more acceptable to use in normal conversation. So, although I don’t go dropping F-bombs in every other tweet, chances are that if I’m gonna use it, I’ll spell it out.

Does that mean I’d automatically approve of a client using ‘f%$k’ or ‘s!*t’ in their fundraising and marketing materials and campaigns? 

Like everything else, it depends. I’d dive deep to make sure they know their donors well. If their donors skewed older, it would be wise to avoid it. If their donor base skews young, it might pay dividends to drop an occasional F-bomb.

What the science says

In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted related to swearing. Profanity improves pain tolerance and can be a sign of creativity. Additionally, people who curse are likely to be more honest and – this really caught my eye – possibly more intelligent.

Wait till I tell my mom how smart I am! Not to worry. She’ll still be shocked when I curse and tell me not to use those words. 

As non-profit pros, we probably all have opinions as to whether shock tactics work in campaigns or not. Is being provocative a good thing or do you risk offending some of your donor base and potential supporters? 

A raised middle finger or a curse word on a billboard, email or social media post from a non-profit will certainly catch people’s attention, arouse their curiosity, make them stop what they’re doing and read or watch. Some of us will like it. Others will be turned off.

And therein lies the rub: there’s definitely more cursing all around us. But that doesn’t mean that we as non-profits suddenly need to be peppering our end-of-year direct mail campaigns with ‘fuck this shit’ type language. But it also doesn’t imply that we should abstain altogether.

Let’s look at a few campaigns and how they incorporated swearing to mobilise people to donate.


Fuck Cancer is an example of a charity using profanity in an entirely appropriate manner

If you’re on social media, you’ve seen this hashtag. Sadly, we all know someone who has died, is dealing with, or has survived one form of cancer or another. And as we find out about someone else who’s been diagnosed with this wretched disease – a relative, friend, work colleague or acquaintance – we feel helpless. Angry. Desperate.

We raise both middle fingers to the universe and scream till we’re blue in the face: fuck cancer!

I have used this hashtag on Instagram and Twitter as a way of letting off some steam. What I did NOT know until about seven months ago was that Fuck Cancer is a registered non-profit organisation! Their mission: to ‘fight cancer by raising awareness and to educate about prevention and early cancer detection. Our goal is to ultimately put an end to late-stage cancer diagnosis.

Using the F-bomb in their name guarantees that the word fuck shows up on everything. Social media. Direct mail appeals. Email. Event invites. You name it.

And ya know what? It works! It channels the rage we feel towards cancer into a positive. One way to tell cancer to go F itself? Donate to raise awareness, increase prevention and spare as many people as possible from a cancer diagnosis. I can get behind that.

When I consider this organisation’s name from a marketing perspective, I think it could only work with cancer. I’m not sure ‘Fuck Diabetes’ or ‘Fuck Heart Disease’ would have the same impact as ‘Fuck Cancer.’

Editor’s note: you can read all about Fuck Cancer on SOFII here.

Fuck you 2020

Odds are you saw this video making its way around social media 14 months ago. (This is the bleeped-out version. I’ve also seen the non-bleeped out version. Not sure which is better.)

When I first saw this video, I couldn’t stop laughing!

  1. They used humour to capture my attention.
  2. They used swear words said by all kinds of people and I found myself nodding my head each time it was said.
  3. They did a ‘year in review’ to a really crappy year and gave it the middle digit sendoff it rightfully deserved.

This is another instance where almost everyone – young and old – can get behind the message of this video. We all couldn’t wait for 2020 to end and 2021 to start. (How’d that work out in the end?) 

But the video wasn’t made just for us to have an outlet to vent. It was geared to encourage people to donate to the Mental Health Coalition in the U.S. and the Black Health Alliance in Canada. Given what we all experienced in 2020, these were causes people would donate to.

This campaign works because they managed to channel our collective rage – with as many F-bombs as possible – into a positive. That’s something people can appreciate and get behind.

Give a shit

WaterAid’s Share your poop campaign used humour and bad language to address a serious issue.

World Toilet Day (November 19) highlights the fact that nearly one-third of the world’s population do not have reliable access to a toilet of their own. This lack of accessible sanitation leads to numerous health and safety issues, for children and adults.

WaterAid, a non-profit based in New York, came up with a very clever idea: Share your poop. They encouraged people to download the ‘Give A Shit’ app and then post customised poop emojis online to help raise awareness of the issue.

In this case, they’re asking people to give a shit about actual shit. And that’s why this works. They’ve connected the s-word to the problem and therefore removed the ‘sweariness’ of it. That’s one way to convince those who might object to get onboard.

By the way, WaterAid had already tested the waters with poop-based marketing. Back in 2015, they ran a ‘Tough Shit’ pilot which was a toilet-themed obstacle fundraising event. They took a calculated risk to try and attract new people to their cause.

My guess? They did very well with the Millennial and Gen Z demos (and a decent amount of Gen Xers) who don’t necessarily get offended when they see the word ‘shit’. As I mentioned above, there may be a generational divide when it comes to public use of profanities. Which is why it’s so important to know your audience!

Fundraising and marketing is all about building relationships. If you’re doing your job well, you’ll have a very good idea in advance of whether your public campaigns should include the ‘f’ or ‘s’ word or not.

Would the verbal equivalent of two double middle fingers be acceptable to your donors?


You’ll notice that the three examples above didn’t just randomly throw around the words fuck and shit. They were cleverly and smartly used as part of a larger campaign to capture attention, raise awareness, get people to share and donate.

That’s what I think would work best. Just inserting either of those two words to shock the senses may not be a smart tactic. Using those words to help push the cause in a way which may seem offensive but at the same time isn’t? That works.

I am well aware that many of you walk a tightrope when it comes to how you market your mission to your boomer donors and how you position yourselves when talking to millennials. It’s tough! My hope is you’ve segmented your lists so that your emails and letters have slightly different messaging which speaks to the individual on the receiving end.

#AlwaysBeTesting is one of my two favourite hashtags (#AlwaysBeLearning is the other). In this case, be careful. If you’re going to use fuck and shit in a campaign, make sure your team and board are behind it. Survey donors and supporters in advance to try and gauge what their reaction might be.

Most important, be smart. There’s a reason why fifty years later those two words still can’t be said on broadcast television in the U.S.

And as I turn fifty years old this summer, my mom would still be shocked if she read this post. I’m hoping none of you will forward it to her. Because if you do, I’m in deep shit.

About the author: Ephraim Gopin

Ephraim is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps non-profits build more relationships so they can raise more money, serve more people and have more impact in the community. Ephraim crafts strategies which help non-profits upgrade their fundraising and marketing efforts. Ephraim is always happy to connect with non-profit pros on Twitter and on LinkedIn. Ephraim is the publisher of the very popular daily enewsletter Your Daily Dose of Nonprofit.

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