I’m not sure how it happened. But we must have given to the wrong Catholic charity at some point ... who then sold our name and address to 896 other Catholic organizations in need. It seems like every day we get a new letter from a different random Catholic organization in dire straits from some random part of the world asking for money.
I used to at least open them to see what they were all about. But just to figure out what they’re all about I had to spend 10 minutes reading a four-page single-spaced letter. So now I just toss them straight into the garbage. I used to feel a little bad about it. But not anymore. I’m sure that almost all of them are well-intentioned, good causes. But they need to learn some new lessons and move away from the old, tired method of just buying a list of 100,000 Catholics-who-give and then mailing them junk mail begging for money (and hoping a small few bite ... even if it annoys the other 98%).
I realize we live in a needy world. And, as Catholics, we shouldn’t complain about the needs, we should serve them. But this isn’t a complaint about the needy. It’s a complaint about how many of our well-meaning Catholic organizations have been influenced by some formulaic, utilitarian, economy of scale, bulk fundraising techniques that, instead of treating each person as a person, treats them all as a bunch of slot machines. These tactics may have “worked” in the past. And they will surely work to some degree in the future. But I think they’re at a tipping point (of doing more damage than good) and a diminishing rate of return to where they’re worth reconsidering. But even more fundamentally, Catholic organizations should be taking the lead here in demonstrating how we treat each person. Not only because it’s the right thing to do (even though that’s enough), but because it is actually increasingly more and more effective.
Here are a few reasons why:
1) People are getting really tired of over-emotional appeals of neediness. I’m all for helping the needy. But people who want to give away their hard-earned money don’t just like throwing their money at needs. They want to invest it into promising leadership that inspires them and which has demonstrated real success in their efforts to serve that need.
2) If the only time I hear from you is when you need money, I feel used. If every email or piece of mail I get from you is a dramatic story about how if you don’t get my money NOW, children will starve or we’ll have to close up shop ... it just loses its effectiveness after awhile. Especially when so many other organizations are saying the same thing. Yes, yes, I know it’s not about ME feeling used, it’s about helping others. But this is an important fact about how people feel when treated this way. I get why organizations do this. It’s the same exact reason spammers send out spam (because it does work on a very small percentage of people, so spam it out to as big of a mailing list as you can). But it’s time to move past these old, disrespectful methods and have the courage and the faith that if you build real relationships with donors and potential donors, it will pay off much, much more in the end than playing the simple spammy numbers game.
3) It’s about relationships. Social media has taught us this lesson in so many ways and it’s why it is such a powerful tool. Interruption marketing is on its way out. Permission marketing is in. If you build a solid relationship with me, I’ll look forward to your mail. I’ll give you my money. I’ll want to see you succeed. I’ll personally invest my time, talent and treasure to help you make it happen. Yes, it’s more work to build this kind of relationship. But the return on the investment is more than worth it.
If you’re a Catholic organization (btw - this applies to parishes, too) that runs on charitable donations, go out and recruit some fanatics. Some true fans that love what you do. Who are inspired by your vision. Who believe in your goals. Build a relationship with them that doesn’t always start with you begging them for more money. Be creative. Get them involved in your work. Ask them for ideas. Share with them the details. Turn them into friends.
One thousand emotionally invested true friends who love your organization are far better than 100,000 strangers on a mailing list any day. Don’t just play the numbers game. And please don’t send me any more junk mail.