Nobody wants to count your candles

publication date: Feb 6, 2013
author/source: Fraser Green

I was settling in at my laptop, all ready to write a monthly tip about the four essentials of direct response fundraising. But I’m afraid that topic is going to have to wait until next month.Fraser Green


Because I just received an email from a charity that I care about asking me to give to help it celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Guess what? I don’t care! And neither do the vast majority of other people who received that same message.

Your anniversary doesn’t matter

It’s not about you, the charity. It’s not about how long you’ve been around. It’s not about how many candles are on your birthday cake!

Rather, it’s about the work you do. The people you help. The results you achieve. The next need you plan to meet head on. That’s why donors give – to help you advance your mission.

I’ve actually been invited to meetings with charities who say, “We’re planning to mount a $4 million endowment campaign next year to mark our 75th anniversary.” Arrggghhh! I want to scream! But then I take a deep breath and point out that – to the donor – the number of years you’ve been around is always a secondary message. It’s never a primary message.

So let’s take my favourite made-up charity, Save the Pussycats Canada. Rather than mounting a big campaign to mark 40 years in business, why not mount a campaign to save a million pussycats in 2014?

To help pussycats, get it right

Here are the right and wrong ways for Save the Pussycats Canada to email me – a loyal donor.

Wrong way:

Happy 40th Birthday Save the Pussycats Canada!

Since 1973, SPC has been a leading voice for the rights of poor and abandoned pussycats all over Canada. We have chapters in 28 communities and fight tirelessly for pussycat rights and entitlements. We’re proud of our 40-year history – and want to celebrate with a special campaign to raise $4 million – $1 million for each decade of our existence.

Right way:

Won’t You Help SPC Save 1 Million Poor Pussycats from Hunger and Disease Next Year?

We know you love pussycats. So do we. After talking with our supporters and volunteers, we’ve decided to launch an audacious campaign to raise $4 million to save more than a million pussycats next year. Pussycats who are sick. Pussycats who are hungry. Pussycats with no one to love. No one has ever set out to save so many pussycats before, but we know that with your help we can do it.

After all, thanks to you – and people just like you – SPC has saved more than 10 million pussycats over the past 40 years. This is a track record that we’re all very proud of – but we’re determined to look ahead and do more for pussycats than we’ve ever done before. Please join us – and we’ll make a million pussycats very, very happy.

Okay, I’ve been a little facetious with my examples, but I’m sure you’ve taken my point.

Don’t ask people to give because you’ve been around for 40 years. Do ask them to give to support your important work and to advance your mission. Then (and only then) you can remind them that you’ve been doing this work successfully for 40 years. That’s credible – rather than boastful.

So please, the next time someone on your Board of Directors wants to do a campaign to mark your birthday – please try to talk him out of it. And if that doesn’t work, ask him to call me!

Fraser Green is principal and chief strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that works with Canadian charities to engage donors at a truly human level and build donor loyalty and commitment. Fraser welcomes your ideas, comments and criticisms about this tip. Please email with your reactions and thoughts.

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