Fundraising and Inspiration Porn: How Does Your Messaging Rate on the Jerry Scale?

Screenshot from a Shriners' commercial of a young white boy in a manual chair.

The only disability in life is a bad attitude…until you factor in #inspirationporn like, “Love is…walking,” that Leo Burnett and Shriners’ thought was a super-appropriate slogan for a kid in a wheelchair to say. For Shriners’ fundraising stragedy campaign. For $$.

Sure, I’ve been critical of the charity fundraising model. Sure, I’ve had some harsh things to say about inspiration porn.  And, yes, I’ve argued that children with disabilities can be valuable comestibles.  None of that precludes me from providing a valuable Professional Fundraiser’s Assessment of the Shriners’ commercial above:

The problem with this ad for Shriners’ Hospital is that it doesn’t go far enough. It goes right up to the edge and hesitates.

Bottom line: If you’re not inspiring AND terrifying your audience, they’re not hearing why they should give to you to make you stop talking.

My 3-Point Pointers for Insperrifying™ Medical-Model Messaging (3M™)

  1. Love = Cure. You’ve laid the groundwork, now close the deal. You’ve got the kids believing love is about walking. Now have them say what you really mean: “My parents will hate me if I can’t walk!”
  2. Kids ♥ Begging. Whether it’s for a puppy or surgery, kids are world-class chin-tremblers. Yet you haven’t even given them the tools they need.  What, Shriners’ can’t afford a couple of tin cups?
  3. Follow Your Non-Bliss. On-camera talent should appear in naturalistic settings that echo your message of disability = despair. A seclusion room in a badly run public school.  Waiting at a stop where the bus rolls by them. Watching fundraising commercials for people “like that.”

Remember: Real World Fundraising™ measures itself on the Jerry Scale. On the Jerry Scale you have to scare to score!

Wishing you all a very happy #GivingTuesday on December 1st!

Letters to a Young Fundraiser: #GivingTuesday Ennui

My Dear Friend,

Thank you for your letter. Your deep and loving trust in my counsel truly makes it possible for me to do the work that I do. I can do no more than thank you. I cannot comment on the style of your year-end fundraising campaign; I cannot take on the role of critic. This is best left to your board, your director, your program staff, Facebook posters, Twitter trolls, and, of course, the otherwise kindly fellow who, upon receipt of your latest missive, alerts you to the missing serial comma in the final paragraph. It is almost always so among our kind and I will speak no more of it. You have made the inexpressible expressed in your ask and to the inexhaustible yearning — How much must I give? — you have said, Any amount that is meaningful to you. And you put this in the PS, as well. You can do no more.

But to continue, year after year, as I have, when the phrases once fresh to a yearling fundraiser, ring as predictably as the morning alarm. Having said these things at the outset, I now dare tell you only this: It’s only going to get worse for you. You wrote to me because you feel the heavy, herding step of #GivingTuesday. You feel an unintended consequence of so much caring that has been calendared months in advance, when each of our individual concerns, housed in the apparatus of our organizations, presented through The Individual Story, a chorus line of concern where your own shapely leg kicks out, but that draws attention more to its whole than some of its parts.

The only cure for this ennui is authenticity and this, my dear, dear friend is difficult to define. You must at times wait for The Angel to speak to you. Go inside. When you know why you must fundraise — it is who you are, it’s October and your year-end numbers are going to tank if you don’t get it in gear — you find your cause and write. And rewrite and show it early in the process to someone who will have to approve it anyway, and start over and then when you need for it to be done, you’ll redo it for the digital version. And #GivingTuesday.

With my sincerest devotion and respect,

IT

PS If you have an inexhaustible yearning to give, this is a very shapely organization that kicks a lot of ass.