Donor-cen­tric but stu­pid? It’s possible

Written by
Jeff Brooks
August 20, 2014

Sometimes a stupid nonprofit ad campaign has an odd little grain of smart in it. Like this print ad campaign, done for Crossroads Community Services, a social services organisation in New York.

The idea: research shows that charitable giving is good for givers in a number of ways. That’s absolutely true. It’s one of the great and under-appreciated truths of our work.

In this case, though, it plays out in a way that guarantees the truth will connect with very few people.

Since it’s unreadable in this small size (it’s nearly unreadable in full size; if you think people ought to read your copy, don't reverse it out), here's what the small copy says:

Research shows that simple acts of kindness can improve your overall mental and physical health.

True enough. Charitable giving and other acts of kindness do all kinds of good things for donors.

But that’s not why donors give. Donors give out of compassion, kindness and a desire to make the world a better place, along with a host of other motivations. Those things are themselves the rewards, as far as donors are concerned. This campaign is on thin ice because it fails to speak to the reasons donors give. It relies on a secondary. Secondary benefits are great -- when you use them in a secondary way.

Three other problems:

  1. The photography obscures the message. The beauty shots of the homeless people make it unclear who’s in the photo. The man in the ad above could just as easily be a doctor who’s able to help you improve your health through medical care as a homeless person who needs your help.
  2. Fundraising without a clear and specific call to action seldom works.
  3. Print ads are rarely effective at raising funds (especially in expensive media markets like NYC). There are exceptions where they break through and really work. But cleverness is not one of those exceptions.

What we have here is another triumph of style over substance, clever over effective, concept over clarity.

About the author: Jeff Brooks

Jeff Brooks has served the nonprofit community for more than 30 years, working as a writer and creative director on behalf of a variety of organisations including CARE, World Vision, Feeding America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, National Wildlife Federation, and many more. He blogs at Future Fundraising Now and Moceanic. In previous careers, he’s been an English teacher and a classical musician. He lives in Seattle in the USA.

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