heroWho doesn’t love a hero?

It’s an exciting time for nonprofit organizations because in this modern climate of innovative technology and creative ways to communicate, nonprofits have become visible champions of charitable causes. Our customers tell us that when people are directly engaged with these heroes, donor willingness to contribute skyrockets.

Ever been asked at your grocery store, “Would you like to donate $1, $5, or more to charity?” I have, and the powerful word “donate” triggers images in my head of sick kids, homeless families, neglected animals and underprivileged people getting a shot at an education. It’s all flashing before my eyes and before I know it, I say “Sure!” so I can be part of this heroic effort too.

But where there is a hero, there is always a villain. Villains pretend to be good guys to dupe people for their own gain, and they exist even in the nonprofit community.  Recently, NBC Business News revealed that four cancer charities were accused of scamming consumers out of more than $187 million.

As a donor, these allegations infuriate me! The idea of getting scammed makes me feel violated and damages my trust in nonprofit organizations as a whole. And I guarantee I’m not the only one who feels this way. Individual donors were responsible for 72% of all charitable contributions in 2013. I am one of those donors, and that makes me part of a very powerful group who needs to be able to trust their heroes again.

As a direct marketer, allegations like this make me want to take action. It’s my job to turn donors’ distrust around and prove to them we’re not the villains. Here are just a few ways to enhance trustworthiness using direct marketing: 

  1. Change your mentality. Direct marketers often joke, “Of course we’re in it for the money; our goal is to get donations!” True, money will buy medical treatments and scholarships, but it’s not why we should be fundraising. Real heroes do not only raise money to save the world; they also focus on the importance of education, awareness, and interaction with other positive people. If we could measure the value of those intangible benefits we’d realize how much more successful we are than the bank balance may show.
  2. Break through the noise. We must break through the noise to reach those who want to hear from us and reassure them of our identity. Unique and consistent branding, reinforced through direct mail, email and social media, is essential to keeping the name and mission of the nonprofit recognizable and reputable. Vague organization names with no affiliation tied to them now make donors wary. Take those mentioned in the article above. The Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services and the Breast Cancer Society all sound similar to credible organizations and fooled many into donating. Generic names like these are a red flag. Solid branding gives audiences confidence that we are who we say we are.
  3. Build a bridge. In acquisition efforts, make sure your target audience has an affiliation with you. If recipients, or someone they know and love, are directly affected by a cause, chances are they will immediately become engaged. From there, educate them on the cause, clarify who you are helping, and be transparent in communications. Sharing real life stories, throwing events where people can shake hands with heroes, and providing financial information through printed and electronic annual reports and fundraising updates go a long way toward maintaining trust. They are also great segues to thank you communications.

I think it’s fair to say nonprofit heroes have a new cause to champion: prove to donors that making the world a better place is a job for nonprofits and donors alike, and that together we can ensure good will prevail.