While I realize that sometimes there's no choice but to send out blanket fundraising appeals in hopes of reaching new supporters, this wasn't one of those instances...

You see, this letter is from a charity that my family has supported on a monthly basis for over eight years. No, it's not a huge contribution, but I do send cheques for larger amounts from time to time and it is an important cause to me. 

So why the "Dear Friend"? 

Our name is printed on the bottom of the letter on an attached pledge card, so I know that this organization has the capacity to electronically personalize the salutation of the letter. Is it laziness? 

If you read a little further down, you will see that the sender is asking for a small increase in our monthly contribution - not much more than the cost of a fancy coffee - so not a big deal, right? It's just that the letter started out in an impersonal tone and the way it ends is with an opt-out - ie. "we will begin withdrawing the increased amount from your account unless you are in touch with us to decline."

OK? But aren't donations usually an opt-in transaction? Frankly, I probably would have happily upped the ante at least $10-$15 / month if you'd asked rather than simply informed...

In addition, the timing of this letter was somewhat off too. It came in early January. Right about the time that I would normally expect to receive my annual thank you letter and tax receipt for the previous year's support. But that hasn't come yet.

The whole thing felt a lot more like a bill and a lot less like an "ask" by the time I got to the bottom of the letter. Could I at least have had a new picture of the kid I sponsor? We kinda joke that he must be a teenager now, he was about eight when we started all those years ago, surely he's grown since then?

So what keeps me on the roster despite the bad taste that this left in my mouth? I really don't feel like I could let Rafael in Peru down by moving on to another similar charity. I guess I just care too much about the mission. I guess that's why I felt so sad that the only news of the impact we've been making for our particular sponsored child was in the first paragraph of the letter and frankly, pretty shallow.

Ask Better?

To me, this charity has assumed that I won't be leaving them any time soon and though they're probably right, I think I'd have more positive comments about this letter if it had been personal and provided a genuine connection to what we're partnering in together rather than leaving me feeling like an ATM.

Give Smarter?

I think the experience goes to show that we do give from the heart and that sometimes passion does rule our choices. Though I didn't think this organization did a great job here, I'd feel like a horrible person to abandon Rafael, so there's little chance that I'll be canceling the gift or opting out of their increase. However, I'll probably be looking to spend more of my giving budget elsewhere rather than increasing my contribution to this charity.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Would you opt-out?

*Update* (April 2012)
There is a full discussion of this fundraising campaign happening at a national level following a CBC Marketplace report: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2012/busted/

You can check in over at the Agents of Good blog for more commentary and a response from the charity that sent this letter.
1/29/2012 08:12:31 am

Christina, I know the organization you speak of since I support it as well. I was also surprised by the fact that they will automatically increase unless you opt-out. I'm not offended by the "Dear Friend", but what struck me as interesting was the fact that they choose to communicate with me by mail and not through email which is how they usually communicate with me. I thought that they were trying to sneak this upgrade by me.

1/29/2012 08:35:26 am

Definitely NOT being too harsh Christina! I would've flown off the handle - I was getting upset just reading this! I've been treated similarly by charities so I know how it feels and I also know how it feels to be somewhat trapped between a cause you care about and their staff not caring enough about you.

Personally, I have made a promise to myself to NEVER use "Dear Friend" during my career - it will never happen. I try to find other, more creative (and less presumptuous) salutations if personalization is actually impossible (which it wasn't in this case).

I also think that if they are asking you for an extra $4 a month (which actually is significant to some people) then at least make a case that's more compelling then increased costs in fieldwork! Tell a story! Grrrr this letter really annoys me. Good post though :)

Ligia Pena
1/31/2012 03:18:08 am

You are justified Christina and it isn't harsh. Organizations must learn this is unacceptable behaviour to treat donors like ATMs. I probably wouldn't opt out but would can the Dictor of Development and explain how the appeal made you feel and the possible repercussions of their ill conceived DM.

Mary Cahalane
1/31/2012 10:03:55 am

I think you are completely justified, Christina. I agree with Margaux - the Dear Friend is just no acceptable. And an "opt-in"??? This isn't a bill, it's (purportedly) a request.

I might keep giving, if I were as emotionally attached as you are. (Which speaks well of you!). But I think I'd call someone there to give them a piece or four of my mind. Give them a chance to apologize profusely, explain and promise to do much better next time...

1/31/2012 11:16:37 am

great post- and one word: ugh!
had a similar situation in my family- yearly scholarship donated to a university for needy students. never heard a thank u from anyone- but always got letters to up the donation amount. my grandfather just kept giving- a better man than I because I would've stopped very quickly...

the worst part to me is that the charity you refer to above is probably doing this to many of its donors- wonder how many have left them because of it...

1/31/2012 11:37:19 am

Dear Friend,

What happened to you is not just regrettable but confusing...is this in line with the ethics of acceptable sector practice?

This has AFP Ethics case study written all over it.

Peers who have responded is an "opt-out" increase in monthly giving normal?

Paul N @UinvitedU

Anne P
1/31/2012 08:38:21 pm

@Paul this isn't normal at all. At my org we ask monthlies to upgrade once a year. 15% voluntary upgrade, 75% do not! We don't force the 75% to do anything.

1/31/2012 10:03:33 pm

I think this is a stewardship fail on many levels.

Personally, I would never be happy with someone automatically increasing my gift and forcing me to opt out if I didn't want to increase it. I never would ask that of my donors.

There are so many better ways to ask people to increase gifts.


Christina Attard
2/1/2012 03:07:24 am

Dear Sharon, Margaux, Ligia, Mary, Ephraim, Paul, Anne and Dave,

Thank you each for such great feedback and for your comments. The post seems to have stirred a good discussion on Twitter as well. It helps to re-affirm that I am not alone in my intuition about this one being "off" and I hope that it will serve as an example that we can all learn from. It's a reminder that putting donors first in everything that we do as fundraisers is key - not to do so can deeply damage trust, respect and ulitmately, loyalty.

Let's keep the conversation going and thank you (and all my readers) for creating a community of colleagues in the online space both through my blog and through the excellent writing and sharing that so many of you offer through your own blogs/twitter/e-newsletters.


Sally Hilton
2/2/2012 12:59:20 am

Did you tell them how 'Dear Friend' felt and what the possible consequences are for your support?

I have always banned Dear Friend/supporter etc in every fundraising dept I've worked in.


Christina Attard
2/16/2012 11:23:46 pm

Update - I did phone the charity in question this week. I couldn't get through to the author of the letter (CEO) or anyone in the Development shop, but I did leave my comments with the call-centre representative who assures me that they will be passed on to the CEO. Will update if I hear back in any sort of personal way from this organization.

2/16/2012 11:32:08 pm

Wow, just the fact that you couldn't reach anyone is not a good way to start. Call me crazy but someone should be available. Just saying :o)

Mary Cahalane
4/9/2012 04:32:42 am

Or at the very least, someone should have gotten back to Christina promptly - which means someone should actually have been given the message and then acted on it.

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