Jam Sammich #4 – Simon Scriver

2015-03-02 20.34.00


When I first stumbled upon Simon Scriver (aka @TotalFR) online, I thought “Finally! Someone who thinks and swears just like me! FUCK YES!”

Not only does Simon know all of my favourite curse words, he’s also an incredibly talented, wise, experienced and kick ass fundraiser. He knows the field intimately – not only where it’s been, but where it’s headed. He’s also not afraid to play Devil’s Advocate with ideas we in the field hold to be sacred truths. I LOVE this about him. During our conversation, Simon didn’t pull punches and challenged my ideas. By the time we were finished, my belly hurt from laughing and I genuinely felt wiser about the sector.

This Jam took place on Tuesday, February 24th 2014.


“O hai <name field>. We couldn’t help but notice, <because we track your every move online>, that it was your birthday. Felicitations, etc. Did you get those shoes you were browsing yesterday? Here’s a link to an ad for them. Hugs + Kisses, <Mega Corporation>. ”

Let’s face it. Caring can be creepy. Especially when it comes in the form of a big brand who is trying to be your best buddy. There is nothing stranger than getting a birthday wish or a valentine from a mega corporation, simply because you were coerced into giving an email address, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, the date your first pet died, and your first born child upon completing a transaction on their website.

Marketing has always been a little fucked up. And now, with the help of Big Data, it keeps getting weirder.

Because of this, the push for charities to use their Big Data with these “new” marketing techniques is even creepier.

We all know that fundraising is about human connections. The best fundraisers are some of the greatest humans. They are real, genuine people, who listen and care. They forge strong relationships with the people they work for – and this is a two-fold relationship. They are the best advocates for their causes, and at the same time they strive to be the best advocates for their donors.

The best fundraisers will know when your birthday is. And send you a card, only because they know it’s appropriate. They’ll hand-write it if they’re really good. And if they knew you well enough to know you hate your birthday because of a weird childhood incident involving a clown, your great Aunt Rachel, a broom closet, and a fire, they wouldn’t send you a birthday card at all.

But let’s be realistic. Small or large shops alike, we don’t always have the resources to become this friendly with our donors. So we fake it. We use mail merge. We have databases.

As Simon pointed out, the best fundraising helps us suspend belief. When we receive a Direct Mail appeal, we know it’s not ACTUALLY sent just to us. No one sat down at their typewriter to send us 4 pages. But we as fundraisers must tell stories that help our donors suspend belief long enough to commit to making the gift. Over time, we need to encourage this suspension over and over. We need to encourage our donors to give again. And we need to do so by using mass produced content.

Not just our Direct Mail appeals, but our thank yous, our updates, our impact reports, and of course, our online platforms which have us desperate for content.

“We need more content because everyone has more content” cries everyone, everywhere.

And thus, the strange beast of the editorial calendar was born, along with it bizarre prompts for writing content around just about anything.

Everything from big holidays like Christmas and Easter, to fake holidays like Valentine’s Day or Halloween, to made up celebrations like Giving Tuesday or National Fig Newton Day, to days where we should be mindful but often come across as insensitive, like Martin Luther King Day or September 11th.

We’re encouraged to write content for all of them. Whether it makes sense to or not.

Because content is king.

Apparently, a king who comes across a lot like your creepy uncle who used to show up to your high school parking lot dressed in baggy clothes so he could try to sell cigarettes to minors.

And when we as fundraisers aren’t sensitive to the serious creep factor that some of this content can cause, we are this creepy king’s handmaiden.

Let’s take Valentine’s Day as an example, especially since it was recent.

What is Valentine’s Day? Well, let’s remove the fact that it’s overly-commercialized nonsense for just a second. Let’s also remove the fact that, like Halloween, it’s just an excuse to sell candy to children.

Valentine’s Day is/was intended to be romantic. Sheena will be quick to point out that this connection to romance didn’t begin until the Middle Ages when Chaucer wrote a poem about it in the courtly love tradition. But since the 14th Century, it was a day meant for romance.

Romance has been sexualized. And Valentine’s Day has been commercialized. Creepy.

Do you know your donors well enough to send them a Valentine? Do you know that they won’t be creeped out by it? And would your donors be able to suspend disbelief long enough to care?

Imagine this. A young man send Valentine’s Day gifts to 1000 women, in hopes that 2% might actually agree to have sex with him. Likely, these young women might not even know what was going on. But your donors aren’t that clueless.

Sheena hates Valentine’s Day. She would not be impressed to receive a card from you. And she definitely wouldn’t “put out” by sending you another donation.

Her grandparents were married on Valentine’s Day, and her grandfather has since passed away. Sending a Valentine to her grandmother would likely be inappropriate. It could make her really sad.

Do you know Sheena and her grandma enough to just assume it’s okay to send a cutesy card?

Valentine’s Day is just one example. What about Mother’s Day or Father’s Day greetings sent to people who have lost their parents? What about a jolly Christmas greeting sent to people who have difficult memories of Christmas because of abusive home situations?

So, how do you move forward with the need to create content without sending your donors down the uncanny valley of creepiness?

  1. If you’re going to send out mass-produced content for something that could come across as weird (like a Valentine) or upsetting (like a Father’s Day note), do something to acknowledge the fact that it might be weird, creepy or upsetting. If you must do mass-produced Valentine’s Day, acknowledge that it’s kind of a weird holiday. If you’re sending out a Christmas card to a long list of individuals who may have a hard time at the holidays, acknowledge this. Err on the side of caution when it comes to potentially upsetting content.
  2. Don’t feel pressure to produce content just because everyone else is producing content. As our dear friend Steven Shattuck has so eloquently pointed out in the past: say something if you have something to say. And when it comes to online content, why not recycle? Not everything needs to be absolutely fresh, 365 days of the year from now until eternity!
  3. Consider random notes to donors. We’d much rather get a short and sweet note on a random day than to receive your note in with 50 other notes just because it’s St. Jean Baptiste Day.
  4. Keep it human. Help donors suspend their belief by telling stories and speaking to them in a way that connects you to them. And never use a fake signature or stupid cursive font to “sign” your name.

Bottom line: caring can be creepy. Be mindful of your donors and the content you produce. Not everyone is going to be into it.

Except your Flag Day post. Everyone loves flags!


What do you think? How do you feel about the push to create more content? What do you think about sending your donors or supporters cards or messages for different holidays?