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Fundraising — August 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

How to Fundraise Really Terribly



Photo: The Daily Beast

A US nonprofit shows us every way you can get fundraising wrong. As reported by Kim Barker of ProPublica and published on the Daily Beast, Move America Forward, a nonprofit focused on giving care packages to American troops overseas, has made countless mistakes in its fundraising practices. And while the nonprofit and some of its actions are specific to America and its political landscape, the lessons here are for every charity in North America.

Here’s how to fundraise really poorly:

1. Exaggerate your success

Move America Forward has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments.” These include exaggerating the number of troops they’ve sent packages to, the timeliness of those packages being delivered, and the amount of goods being sent to help those troops.

Exaggerating your success will come back to haunt you. You have to be honest about your successes and failures–if you don’t reach your goal, be honest about it. That integrity will go a long way to building trust with your donors.

2. Lie to your donors

Barker reports that Move America Forward reported sending 800 marines care packages in a matter of five weeks, but the battalion they claimed they sent packages to was deployed to Japan, not Afghanistan as they reported.

I can understand the temptation to exaggerate your fundraising success, but lying is completely indefensible. Breaking trust like this may give you short-term gains, but donors will end up leaving in the long run.

3. Funnel money to your founders

Move America Forward reportedly funnelled “millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms.” And those men used money on “an Alaskan cruise and fancy hotels as well as paying themselves huge consulting fees.”

Most of this is pretty obviously wrong. Donors expect you to be responsible with their money. If you want to go on an Alaskan cruise, and no one should begrudge you that, it needs to be paid out of your salary, not the charity funds.

4. Use stock photos as your own

“ProPublica traced the photograph [of Chinook helicopter unloading supplies] back to a stock photo company called StockTrek Images. It was actually taken on Sept. 22, 2004, when soldiers were unloading supplies in Afghanistan for a combat resupply mission.”

Beyond using a photo out of context, displaying stock photos as your own is both poor practice and another way to break the trust of your donors. It’s also just lazy. Whenever possible, go take your own photo. If you absolutely must, use a stock photo, but make sure you credit appropriately.

5. Publish stories without permission

“In several instances, the charity has taken images and stories from other groups and from veterans themselves without permission to use in fundraising appeals.”

The people you help–whether they are veterans, refugees, or the poor–have a right to know where their story will be published and to decline if they wish. Stories are crucial to your success, but more important is to respect the wishes of the people you are helping.

6. Ruin it for the rest of us

Beyond Move America Forward’s obvious flaws, it’s always unfortunate to hear stories of this because it has such a negative effect on charities as a whole. Best practices not only help you succeed in your cause, they also help your peers recover a reputation for good stewardship among charities.

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