Do people believe our phony urgency?

Late-winter rant # 2

A hallmark of digital appeals I received this past fall was a manufactured urgency demanding that I act immediately: bad consequences would pile up if I delayed my gift beyond some deadline set by the charity.

In the final four days of 2017, for example, one charity emailed me three “last-chance-to-get-your-2017-tax-deduction-now” appeals. A useful reminder the first time, perhaps, but in the second and third emails the “urgency” came across purely as a pretense.

One organization sent me four Giving Tuesday appeals in four days in November, two of them six hours apart on the same day. The appeals were almost completely devoid of any case for support. Instead, the call to action and, apparently my presumed motivation, was entirely about the approaching (and arbitrary) giving deadline.

Giving Tuesday is producing some interesting opportunities for charities, but really, how long do we fundraisers think the timetable will motivate people? Eventually we must make some sort of case to the donors for their support.

Pushing out precisely-timed appeals also can easily tip you and the donor into weird territory. The line is thin.

One appeal arriving on Christmas eve noted that it wasn’t too late to “make this a season of hope.” That message teetered on the sensible side of the line, barely. I’m not sure that I buy the notion that my eleventh-hour gift has any effect during that season at all, but I understand the idea – at the very least it would express some hope that I have for a better future for the people served by the charity.

Another appeal, however, fell into the absurd. Thanksgiving Monday was October 9. A Thanksgiving email I received on October 7 read “Give by Oct 8 – just one day left to help!”

My instant reaction was “Seriously? That’s your message? By Monday I'm off the hook!”

Clearly, my gift could not possibly be used for the Thanksgiving program. Yes, I knew that their work is continuous, and my gift would help, but the setup felt not only clumsy but manipulative.

Maybe these techniques are paying off financially. But my suspicion is that if that amped-up pseudo urgency isn’t already exhausted, it soon will be. Our cleverly timed efforts to invent deadlines by which donors can make a difference merely add to their cynicism and fatigue.

Figuring out a better way? Now that seems urgent.

Larry Matthews

Next: the not-quite-real mathcing gift