The Home Row Blog

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from the Home Row team

Feeding America Fouls Up Fundraising

Posted on December 15, 2011

Are you paying for marketing?

When’s the last time you gave money to charity?

Yes, that’s a personal question especially in our tightened economic times. However, millions of Americans reach into our pockets throughout the year whether it’s for a scout project, co-workers walk for breast cancer, or religious group canned food drive. Estimates put our yearly charitable giving around $300 billion dollars.

If you do give do you know what motivates you?

I became curious about this recently when one of my favorite charities Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest, went from the top of my list to completely off the list.

This non profit, like many others, has done its marketing homework on how to bring the cause to me at a personal level. As a marketer, I respect that. Their appeals talk about how I can truly make a difference.

Now, that’s a value meal, or so we are lead to believe

Feeding America’s marketing – it’s on the homepage of their website – tells me and every visitor that every dollar donated equals 8 meals! If I donate a mere $21 I can provide 168 meals, not 165 or 170 but a specific 168. That’s powerful marketing. I can see how my donation works.

So, if $1 can feed eight hungry children why did Feeding American feel they needed to send me a slick 8 ½ x 11 flat marketing proposal that cost over $1 to mail that said on the outside it was prepared just for Sharon Ritchey? But more than the cost of the actual postage is the cost to create the marketing piece. I know what it costs to create the type of collateral they sent. We create similar pieces all the time.

The piece contained a 4- color process, 120lb (ish) cover stock, matte-finished folder with full bleed using custom photography and design. If you don’t speak printing it’s about as heavy as a manila file folder. They used a great agency; it’s attractive.

On the outside was the proclamation – a proposal prepared for Sharon Ritchey – yes they spent money to source and print my name.

Inside the folder was 2 pieces of paper – each single sided, paper clipped together with the same rehashed marketing message as always and an appeal card.

The piece was expensive both in natural and human resources including: photography, writing, design, and printing. Let’s not forget the personal touch of the paperclip that had to be attached by a worker.  The piece needed to be hand collated, stuffed, addressed, sent to a mail house and postage paid.

This piece, multiplied by their huge mailing list, most likely averaged out to be $2-$3 a piece before postage. Add the postage and they spent maybe $5.00 to reach me. That’s 40 meals by their estimates!

There are many guidelines about how much an organization should spend on fundraising. In reality it depends on each organization’s size and needs. A $3.00 per donor investment that yields $20, $25 or more is considered a good return.

Yes, Organizations Do Need to Raise Funds

I do realize that fundraising is a necessary evil. If you don’t tell people about your needs they won’t contribute.

However, if Feeding America was attempting to capture my attention during the frenzied end of the year appeals, they certainly did. For all the wrong reasons. I was a regular contributor. There was no need according to fundraising metrics to send such an elaborate appeal to me. Their records should show my year over year contributions.

What they sent me was 40 meals worth of marketing. Multiply that by the thousands on their list and you get the idea of how many people they could have provided meals to.

I’m no longer feeding this organization’s marketing budget. I’ve got a carload of food that I’m delivering in person to my local food bank. At least I know it’ll make a direct difference.

Non profits need to look at their fund raising efforts and consider how those at the receiving end view them. Mailed appeals, according to research, are the most effective. Think of all the return address labels, postcards, and free calendars your receive. There’s also a trust factor with a mailing. You send the money instead of a direct phone solicitation or potential spam-like email.  Sites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator help donors make informed decisions based on pie charts and limited data that is provided to the government. Feeding America rates fairly high but a closer look inside leads me to believe otherwise.

Please be generous this year there are too many hungry people in America and around the globe. But be a wise and cautious consumer too.

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The home row is the center row of keys on the keyboard "A,S,D,F,J,K,L,;" When students are taught how to become touch typists (typing without looking at the keys) they begin with their hands resting on the home row. The left hand rests on the "A,S,D,F" keys and the right hand on the "J,K,L,;" keys. From this position the other keys can be reached.