Have you got your donor hat on? Great, let's begin.
Here's a selection of adverts – old and new, online and offline – for you to look at. Then we'll see how you react to them...
(Help the Aged, press advert)
Sightsavers press ad
(DEC press advert)
Unicef banner advert
(Oxfam press advert)
You can take your donor hat off now. Did you notice what happened?
They're in a (rough) order. I started with adverts that present you with a problem that you, as a donor, can solve. The sums of money being asked for vary, but all make the donor feel powerful.
Then the adverts start to change and present larger-scale problems with less tangible solutions. These can – worst case scenario – make a donor feel powerless. Their gift seems like a drop in the ocean.
At Bluefrog, we try to make sure that doesn't happen. For every piece of fundraising, we address four principle need states, one of which is 'combat helplessness'
So would we ask you to change the world? Or fix the system? Probably not, because it's more than most people can deal with – even if they are getting a helping hand from other like-minded individuals.
Mark sums it up in this post by saying 'Show donors what they can do, not what they can't'.
Of course, some causes lend themselves to straightforward propositions. With others, you have to work a little harder (or more imaginatively) to find a way of making the donor feel their contribution is a vital one. That's why I like the Goma DEC advert, where in the midst of a large-scale disaster, there's an attempt to breakdown the costs and combat a donor's feeling of helplessness.
The theme of helplessness came up in Adam Curtis's three-part documentary ‘All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace’. Did you see it? I suspect the series would have had a wider following amongst fundraisers if its title had more clearly revealed its theme – the death of altruism.
In it, Curtis looked at the rise of philosophies which either directly reject altruism or lead to it. One was Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Another was the belief system, associated with people like Richard Dawkins, which resulted from George R Price's mathematical theories.
Price pioneered the idea that we are governed by our genes and even altruism can be understood via mathematics. He became convinced that an individual 'altruistic' act only exists to further the survival of the mass of human beings – in particular, those humans most like us. This is the genetic understanding of altruism. It is just a kind of self interest. And it leads to the belief that we are little more than genetically driven machines, who can do little to change the course of events.
If you watched the programme, you'll realise that particular philosophy pretty much drove George Price mad. It's certainly depressing. That's why I like adverts that make donors feel powerful.
All the pieces shown above are recruiting new donors, but combating helplessness needs to run through a donor communication programme. By proving donations are used to make a difference - in newsletters and feedback pieces – you can build a relationship of trust.