Skip to main content

The Charity Fundraiser as a Protection Racket

I’m a cause marketer, not a direct response marketer. So I’m sure there’s all kinds of nuance that’s not plain to me in this recent direct mail piece from Smile Train, Inc.

But holy crap have you ever seen something that seemed more like a charity version of the protection racket?
“Make one gift now (of no less than $250. See the inset below for details) and we’ll never ask for another donation again.”
If you’ve ever watched a movie or TV show about the mob you know what I mean when I say protection racket. A burly guy goes to all the neighborhood businesses and tells the owners something like this:
“There’s been a lot of violence in the neighborhood lately. Mr. Big hates to see that so he’s offering protection to certain businesses like yours.”
The burly guy doesn’t even have to make an explicit threat. It’s implicitly understood that it is Mr. Big’s men who are doing the violence to the neighborhood businesses that don’t pay up.

In this case Smile Train, Inc., a $92 million in revenue charity whose highest paid executive, Brian Mullaney, made $678,058 in 2008, is Mr. Big. The burly guy is that pitiable child on the cover of the card.

Pay up, the picture says, and you’ll never have to see the before-picture of that child’s face again.

The only thing I can figure about the offer is that Smile Train knows exactly what the typical lifetime value of a donor acquired via direct mail is. They also know the average cost of acquiring each new donor. My guess is that Smile Train’s average lifetime value of a donor is right around $250, minus the cost of acquiring the donor.

The offer, then, just reflects Smile Train’s fundraising reality.

Like I said, I don’t know much about direct response, but I do know that one of the hallmarks of that business is that that they’re always testing new ‘packages;’ different copy and headlines, different pictures, different offers, even different envelopes.

Here’s hoping this ridiculous package doesn’t test well.

Comments

Jeff Brooks said…
I've got some bad news: Smile Train has been mailing packages with this approach at least since early 2009. I'm guessing it's their control. I agree, it's a very strange approach. It's not clear to me why it works, but it looks like it does.

Popular posts from this blog

Three Ways to Be Charitable

I’ve spent a big chunk of my career working with or for charities. Many of my dearest and ablest friends are in the charity ‘space.’ And the creativity and problem-solving coming out of the nonprofit sector has never been greater.  Although I’ve had numerous nonprofit clients over the last decade or so, I haven’t worked in a charity for about 12 years now, which gives me a certain distance. Distance lends perspective and consequently, I get a lot of people asking me which charities I recommend for donations of money or time. My usual answer is, “it depends.” “On what?” they respond. “On what you want from your charitable activities,” I reply. It sounds like a weaselly consultant kind of an answer, but bear with me for a moment. The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas and means “from the heart,” implying a voluntary act. Caritas is the same root word for cherish. The Jews come at charity from a different direction. The Hebrew word that is usually rendered as charity is t…

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.


Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

Unconventional Metrics of Cause Marketing Power

The printed edition of Fortune Magazine runs a regular feature called ‘My Metric’ wherein business leaders identify informal but telling measures of current economic activity.

In the January 17, 2011 Michael Glimcher, CEO of Glimcher Realty Trust cited as his metric an increased number of black cars on the streets of New York City as a sign of the U.S. economy’s (still pending?) resurgence.

That got me thinking, what unconventional metrics evidence the power of certain cause marketing efforts?

One immediately leapt to mind, although only General Mills, which makes Yoplait yogurt in the U.S., can measure it.

The Yoplait lid at left... which I purchased in December 2010... can NOT be redeemed for a $0.10 donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Instead it promotes Yoplait’s sponsorship of Komen’s Race for the Cure events, which are numerous.

But I’d bet you a six-pack of Yoplait Greek Honey Vanilla that people nonetheless still send in some number of the lids above in an attempt to redeem th…