- Tue, September 20 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
Once upon a time, when I was living in Ukraine, I met the staff of a community foundation named Dobrata that was trying to encourage businesspeople to give money to charitable causes. This was not an easy task in a country emerging from decades of Soviet rule and with no history of corporate philanthropy, and Dobrata staff expressed some disappointment over their problems in efforts to motivating motivate entrepreneurs.
They showed me their latest advertisement, which they had aired on local television. It was an animated, black-and-white ad with mournful music playing in the background. A stooped babushka enters a pharmacy. She looks up at the shelves and then down at a few stray coins in her pocket. Tears slowly course down her cheeks. She is unable to buy the medicine she needs. A voice-over and accompanying text urge people to help by calling Dobrata. What happened when the ad ran? Dobrata was flooded with calls from babushkas asking for money to buy medicines. Virtually no one called to donate money. The main problems: lack of a clear audience and an appeal to that audience’s values. Businesspeople didn’t see the ad as meant for them. It was depressing—everyone in Ukraine knows the collapse of the Soviet Union hit pensioners hardest—but not personally motivating. No one believed a call to Dobrata could resolve this enormous social problem.
After some reflection, Dobrata went back to the drawing board. The next time I saw their staff, they handed me a video of their new ad. It was a colorful, animated spot to be shown in movie theaters. This was a far better venue than television for reaching their audience, because only those who are relatively well-off, people like businesspeople, can afford to go to the movies in Ukraine. In the spot, a businessman is shown slumped over his desk, signing paper after paper handed to him by a secretary. He goes on autopilot, numbly working his way through massive stacks. The picture zooms into his brain, which has the cogs and wheels of a robot. Life has become mechanical and without feeling. Then an alarm clock goes off on his desk and suddenly the scene brightens. The secretary places before him a donation request from Dobrata, and he signs, breaks out of his rut, and regains his human self. A friendly voice-over and call to action (wake up and give to Dobrata) end the spot. The ad was funny, motivating, and memorable. It clearly spoke to businesspeople by whimsically highlighting the drudgery that comes with any job, especially in a country with lots of red tape. It positioned charitable giving as a way to fulfill a desire to break out of the grind and feel good. Dobrata hit its mark.
I relate this story because it shows so much: The art of fundraising isn’t to show need—it’s to inspire action. Tears may attract attention but it’s hope that wins hearts. Don’t lose sight of the joy of giving.