My friend Jonathan put this question up for discussion: “As a ‘development’ ploy, a charity sends a two dollar check, asking that the recipient not cash it and donate instead. Cash it or not?”
One friend said, “I cash it and donate double.”
Another said, “Stupid fundraising method. If I am the charity, I 1099 the people who cash the checks.”
Yet another wrote, “I think that the fact that a charity is using any of their assets to send out checks to anyone other than the stated benefactor of the charity, calls into question their management practices and their ability to responsibly manage donated funds. Think twice before donating to them; find another charity to donate to & I wouldn’t cash the check.”
My first answer? I said cash it, keep the money, and make the gift that the direct mail piece was too silly to ask for outright. Send a note with the gift to comment on the concern he felt about this appeal type and ask that they exclude him from this type of scheme in the future. All fundraising techniques work for somebody sometime, and my guess is that Jonathan had been micro-segmented based on prior giving or some other variable. (Or maybe they thought he’s a little old lady with church-based guilt issues. If he was a knitter or crochet-er or quilter, maybe the charity bought a stitch craft magazine mailing list, or maybe it’s just a big ol’ zip code drop…).
The charity’s appeal might work. The yield for investment might actually be pretty good, and they may end up putting more money into their programming to benefit their mission. However, I doubt it is a well-thought-out endeavor since Jonathan received and questioned it. My suggestion that Jonathan give is based on a presumption that he cares about the mission of that particular charity, not because the solicitation warranted a response.
I have never recommended this appeal technique. My understanding of the logic behind this type of appeal is that the check amount (or a $1.00 bill — I’ve received that appeal before) is of a size that the donor will write a bigger check back — $2 barely pays for postage and printing from the charity and the effort of cutting a check and postage from the donor. Regrettably, this sets the scale of the ask too low too. But my main problem with this appeal is not that it doesn’t work — it does — or that the gift size is likely to be quite small, but guilt and trick giving is no way to build a relationship with a donor. For every $6 raised in a given year, non-profits typically retain only $5 the following year due to donor attrition. Why create extra tension for the donor about deciding to give if there is likely already a problem with keeping donors engaged? Why lead the donor to wonder at all about the motive of the solicitation?
Regarding the comment about management practices and the charity’s ability to responsibly manage donated funds, I am generally critical of the arbitrary measurement of 10-20% of budget maximum as an indicator of successful nonprofit fiscal management. Although it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, a critical look at a 990 is a better way to gauge the charity’s fiscal health against one’s own values. Tell a for-profit company that, in any given year, they shouldn’t invest more in sales if it’s warranted, and they’d likely consider the request to be uninformed and insulting.
* quote from the 1985 movie “Better Off Dead,” one of my least favorite movies of all time and one with seemingly inexplicable cult appeal.