I’m all about getting creative to find new donors.

Heck, I spend a lot of time helping people brainstorm ways to improve their donor acquisition.

But sometimes you can cross a line. donor acquisition

People who have used your service might make great candidates to make a donation.

But not always. Let me share a real-life story.

My friend Michelle shared her experience with me recently, and frankly it made me mad.

You see, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of months ago. It was a shock to her and her friends and family. (I don’t think we’re ever prepared to hear something like that.) Oddly enough, her husband was diagnosed with cancer too, within a couple of weeks of hers. They were both pretty scared, as you can imagine, yet faced it with a lot of grace and courage. They were scared for themselves and for their two young boys, because even though lots of people get treated and make full recoveries, it’s a whole different thing when it’s you or someone you love.

So, he had his procedure, then a couple of weeks later, she had hers.

As you can imagine, it was a big upheaval in their home for both of them to have major health issues so close together. And even with insurance, they had LOTS of out-of-pocket expenses.

Then one day, Michelle was MAD. Like ‘wet hen’ mad. Here are her words:

A little rant here. I have raised funds for non profits for over twenty years. Sometimes successfully, and sometimes I’m told “no” or “not right now.” That’s part of the job.

One of the most important tools for fundraising is building the relationship with the potential donor. This can be quick or might take months or even years–think million dollar bequest. In this relationship process the fundraiser must walk very carefully until she learns what the potential donor needs and wants in an agency before he writes the check.

Okay, so I’ve just been repeatedly subjected to every way you SHOULD NOT approach a donor.

I assume my name (and Michael’s) has been put on a list somewhere as being a new cancer patient or survivor. And that’s fine.

But you see, dozens of cancer agencies are now asking me to give to them.

Okay. Makes sense, right? Wrong.

Their approach is to tell me everything they do: Financial aid for patients, transportation to treatment, wigs and surgical bras, etc. and they want me to give so they can help other women, children or men.

That’s all fine, but you see, not once did any of these agencies ask if I needed help. I’m lucky that my husband can drive me places and that I don’t need a wig. However, between Michael and I, we have a lot of medical bills.

Now I’m not asking for help! (Unless someone wants to plan a motorcycle ride for fun, right?) Michael and I are being frugal and will eventually be fine. But we are not in a position to make donations.

These cancer groups should have done their homework. (And it’s not ALL cancer groups–I don’t want you to think so. Some have been very respectful). But I can tell you I’m currently feeling rather angry and hurt.

Which does not bode well for my future check-writing to these organizations.

What sense does that make for a cancer nonprofit to approach random people who have fresh diagnosis or are still in treatment, to solicit donations? If you ask me, it’s insensitive and VERY ego-centric. Those organizations are so focused on their numbers and hitting their revenue budget that they haven’t stopped to think about the PEOPLE and their situations.

Honestly, this has got to stop.

Nonprofit leaders have got to slow down long enough to THINK about what they’re doing, who they’re approaching, and what they’re saying.

No wonder donor acquisition numbers are so horrible – it’s all about blanketing a large group of people with a narrowly-focused request, and without enough research into the current situations of the target audience.

Now, since you’re here reading this, I know you’re smarter than the average bear. But please, go back and re-look at how you’re doing donor acquisition.  Make sure you’re putting the relationship in front of the request. Make sure you’re spending enough time understanding your audience and taking the necessary steps to build relationships.