The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

The Evil Cousin of Fundraising


Excerpted from How to Turn Your Words Into Money

How often have you read fundraising built on statements like these?

  • 31,000 children die from hunger every day.
  • There are 9,500 homeless people in our community.
  • 11,000 Americans die of cancer every week.
  • 2.7 million healthy cats and dogs are euthanized in the US every year.

These are meant to stir you to action by bowling you over with big numbers. The organizations seem to think, People will open their wallets once they know how big the problem is!

It doesn't work.

In fact, big-number fundraising is so bad it shouldn't be called fundraising. Fundcrushing is more like it. It's a force for evil, training people that charitable giving is for dummies. Fundcrushing spreads a message of apathy and hopelessness.

Let's look at some of the differences between the two approaches:

Fundraising Fundcrushing
You can change the world. Here's how. The problem is huge beyond imagining. Just look at those overwhelming numbers!
Meet this person you can help. Grasp the enormity of the problem.
Give because you can be part of the solution. Give because this problem is so big.
Feel empowered. Feel unimportant and guilty.

Fundcrushing discourages people from giving because it ignores two facts about human motivation:

  1. Facts don't move people to give. We give when we respond emotionally to a situation. Facts suppress emotions.
  2. People don't rise to action because a problem is big. They take action because they see a problem as solvable. Telling them the problem is big in effect tells them it's not solvable.

Most of your donors and prospects already know the problem you’re working on is big. The sad thing is that many people don't donate because they think giving is futile. They feel they can't make a difference.

That's our fault. Fundraisers have been hammering away at how big the problems are for so long, many people only know one thing about the world's problems: They're huge. They have no idea we could solve many of our problems if we would get involved.

Let me show you what I mean by fundcrushing:

Every year, 15 million hectares of rainforest are destroyed. That's more than a football field of forest every second. Permanently gone. With the forest go irreplaceable plant and animal species. More than 137 species go extinct every day. That's one every ten minutes.

A donor who reads this message would have to have an iron will to keep caring and stay involved in the cause. It's as if I said to you, "My dog died. Will you donate to save his life?"

If you want to move people to join you in solving this environmental problem, you need to tell a story or paint a picture of a solvable piece of it. Give them an opportunity to act heroically and make a difference:

The bulldozers are ready. They're parked on the edge of a patch of tropical forest that's about the size of the average American backyard. Several dozen gigantic trees stand waiting too. Each one is up to 200 feet tall, home to birds, mammals, insects, reptiles—including a very noisy troop of monkeys.

It will all be flattened in a matter of hours. Unless someone like you steps forward with the funds to halt the destruction.

A few years ago, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the tepid international response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He cited some now-famous research showing that people were far more charitable when told about a hungry little girl in Africa named Rokia than when told about a deadly famine that threatened millions.

Kristof realized that the reason the Darfur crisis was neglected was because it was huge. People couldn't care. He theorized there would be more response if Darfur had "a suffering puppy with big eyes and floppy ears."

He was right.

Every fundraising ask must have a puppy! Not necessarily an actual dog but someone whose story tells the story in a way that touches the heart. The way a puppy does. If you don't have that, you aren't really fundraising. You're just spreading words around, hoping they'll randomly catch people's attention. After I read Kristof's piece, I made a sign to remind myself to find the puppy in every fundraising message. Here it is:


You can download this image in color and sized to print on an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet at

Here's how you can change fundcrushing into fundraising:

  1. Offer bite-sized solutions the donor can afford. If you're talking to people likely to give $25, show them what they can accomplish with $25.
  2. Tell stories about individuals or issues at a scale they can grasp.
  3. Show a clear picture of the solution you want them to be part of.

That's how you win donors' hearts, minds, and donations. When you slam them with big numbers, you confirm the fear lingering in all our hearts: that we are not significant.

Don't do that to your donors. It's not nice. And it's not fundraising.

the-evil-cousin-of-fundraising_jeff-brooks.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Jeff Brooks, author of The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications as well as How to Turn Your Words Into Money. He has served the nonprofit community for more than 20 years, working as a copywriter and creative director on behalf of some of the best nonprofits of North America and Europe. His clients have included St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, CARE, The Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House, World Vision, Feeding America, the American Cancer Society, and many more. He is deeply grateful to be part of an industry that makes the world a better place.

Topics: Fundraising