Are you A THING worth saving?

Tom Ahern
A community foundation boss of note (hey, Neil!) recently tossed this question into my email in-box:
What do you think of a fundraising appeal that has the headline….”Help (name of org) survive”

I have always been of the opinion that this is not good practice. That donors want to be inspired to help people and meet needs, provide something new and exciting, support growth, etc.

But I know these are unusual times.

Still … do we want to support orgs that may not be around tomorrow?

Welcome your opinion.

“Help us survive”?

As a case for support, I’d say it has low emotional value.

Of course (speaking as a slippery consultant here), it depends.
If an appeal like this goes to your truest of true believers, it might start a conversation.

The “truest of true” already have a strong emotional connection. And any conversation with them might lead to rescue-level gifts, assuming a rescue was feasible.


But donors are not all equal…

If this appeal goes to people who mildly (as opposed to deeply) care about the mission, then the predictable response might be, “Oh, well. Winners and losers. Too bad, but….”


So let’s pretend…

Consider this hypothetical: There’s this building in Baltimore that houses the flag that Francis Scott Key wrote about.

It’s got stains. It’s got cannon ball holes. It stood up to 25 hours of naval bombardment during a downpour.

As a memento of a young nation’s battle for recognition, it’s one of a kind. It’s the actual Star-Spangled Banner, for heaven sakes.
But, in Baltimore, it gets a few hundred visitors a year.

It’s housed in a little old brick building without much of an endowment and the board of directors is sleepy and city and state and federal monies are all tight … and along comes coronavirus.

The little old brick building has to close. Flag into storage, never to be seen again.
Well, I imagine a “Save the Star-Spangled Banner for the Nation” campaign would do quite well. Loss aversion would kick in for patriots and history lovers of all parties.

Money flows in. The building in Baltimore still closes (because that’s not the important part and the sleepy board inspires no confidence).

But the campaign funds a new wing on the Smithsonian to properly stage the flag, making it now a huge tourist attraction (better location, lots more visitors: millions of visitors annually instead of hundreds).
Mere survival is not a thing.

Keeping a nation’s founding story alive with artifacts … well, that IS a thing.
You build a case for support around the thing that matters to the people who care.

[Making this all up: the real banner, a huge 30 x 42 feet, is permanently housed in the National Museum of American History, in DC.]
“Help org. survive” begs a question immediately: Why bother?

It’s not a cruel question or a mean question or a skeptical question. It’s the obvious and reasonable question, and supporters deserve an answer.
And the answer better be a roar not a whimper.
OK, that was fun. Hope you’re well!
~ tom at @

  • Tom Ahern