I Don't Know You - What do You Want to Sell Me?

Bill Goodwill
 

The above headline is the essence of one of the most famous print ads ever created in 1958 for McGraw Hill Publishing. While both the artwork and copy might be considered “stark,” or “bland,” that is what contributes to its creative genius. The ad copy has been translated into French, Russian, German, Italian and Chinese. It was named the best ad of the 20th century by Business Marketing in 1999.

As my first job out of college, I worked for McGraw Hill, and when I saw this ad in our files, I was struck by the impact of what is referred to as the Old Man in the Chair ad.

At McGraw-Hill, my job was to convince ad agencies and corporate advertising departments that they should advertise, and preferably in one of the 48 McGraw-Hill business publications. When I got some resistance about why businesses should advertise at all, I pulled out this famous ad and laid it on the executive’s desk. The copy and visual of this ad did more than anything I could say.

Fast forward to the job I have now – distributing PSA campaigns to the media on behalf of non-profit organizations. In many cases, the PSAs we distribute support important social issues such as veteran’s causes, health and safety, volunteerism, etc. However, often the sub-text is to use these campaigns to raise funds.

When it comes to raising funds via PSAs, there are two fundamental truths that every non-profit executive should know. First, there are some restrictions on what you can say or show in TV PSAs when it comes to fund raising. Secondly, if your organization is not well known, the job of raising funds becomes significantly more difficult.

Regarding the first point, it is generally acceptable to use phrases such as “show your support for XYZ non-profit by logging onto our website….” whereas using a phrase such as “send your donation to XYZ non-profit…” may be too overt.

Overly Optimistic Expectations

The second important thing to know relates to this ad – a take-off on the "Old Man in The Chair" ad. This ad could be called the "Skeptical Donor in the Chair" ad, and what it tells us about donating to non-profits is very important.

In a few words, donors don’t normally contribute to causes they do not know, understand and believe in.

We have had more than a few non-profits which believe if they do a national PSA campaign asking for funds, the floodgates will open, and the money will pour into their coffers. That is very far from reality.

Both of these print ads say essentially the same thing. Until you have carefully created widespread public awareness and credibility for your organization, the chances of developing a successful fund raising effort is about nil.

Some Factors to Consider

With the foregoing as background, how do we go about creating widespread public awareness and credibility? There are entire books written on this subject, but a few brief points are relevant:

  • First, it takes time and lots of money. Ask any marketing executive who is introducing a new commercial product or service how much they will budget to gain even a modest foothold in the market place. Think millions, or perhaps tens of millions.
  • As for time, think years, not months. I worked on the anti-drunk driving campaign in the early 1970’s when about 26,000 people were being killed in what were called Alcohol Related Situations. Today, that number has been cut in half. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it took about 45 years to convince the public that drinking and driving was not socially acceptable. The amount spent on various campaign messages about this issue is incalculable.
  • Third, you will reach your goal much faster by hiring an experienced fund raising executive who knows how to shake the money tree on behalf of your organization. A word of advice….media, advertising and PR specialists are not fund raisers. Raising funds from recalcitrant donors who are being tapped by dozens of non-profits, is both an art and a science. You may want to visit the Association of Fund Raising Professionals at: www.afpnet.org to learn more about their work and how to find a fund raiser that is the right fit for your organization.
  • Fourth, become very familiar with the term “Cause Related Marketing,” which is a marketing specialty that can help your organization raise funds for important social issues. You can learn more about Cause Marketing on our PSA Research Center website at: www.psaresearch.com/biblio_cause_marketing.html
  • Finally, a new phrase has crept into our lexicon - crowd funding - which means using the Web to help raise money for your cause. One of the leading sites for this tactic is Go Fund Me which can be accessed at: www.gofundme.com

The Role of PSAs

I do not mean to infer that PSAs, public relations and other marketing tactics are not important in the fund raising effort. In fact, the more you pursue those initiatives, the more successful you will be in raising funds over the long term. We have created a mini-case history on how PSAs can support fund raising which you can view at: www.goodwillcommunications.com/Fund_Raising.aspx

Keep Your Eye on the “Old Man”

In conclusion, raising funds among an increasingly skeptical donor community is difficult. If it were easy, every non-profit would be flush with cash to meet their mission. In reality, it takes a symphony of marketing musicians who can come together and play a tune so meaningful that it connects to those who can, and will, write a check out to your organization.

As you begin to plan your next media relations or fund raising program, keep your eye on that “Old Man in the Chair,” because I guarantee one thing…he is looking at you and may not be sold.

Further reading:

  • A New Twist To Cause Marketing
  • Various Cause Related Marketing articles
  • A peer-to-peer fundraising tool for non-profits
  • A Powerful Way for Non- Profits to Raise More Money
  • Bill Goodwill is CEO of Goodwill Communications and has over forty years of advertising and public relations experience.