Constant Contact: Gift Planning in Canada

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I wrote this article for “Gift Planning in Canada.” It appeared in their July 30th issue along side articles by people I very much admire, namely Janet Gadeski, Ken Ramsay and Paul Nazareth. The editor is none other than Lisa MacDonald.


Times have changed; we have not.

Let me tell you a story and, yes, I’ll keep it brief:

As a family of six we recently went to Florida for the week and in planning our trip, I needed to ensure we stayed connected. To each other and even to those we were trying to get away from. Pushing fifty (but claiming to be in our mid to late forties), my wife and I wanted data, phone and text and we didn’t want to break the bank with long distance fees and roaming charges. My kids (aged 21, 18, and 13) wanted text and data on their devices and didn’t care what it cost because I was paying for it. My 10 year-old simply wanted a phone; she carried mine.

During the week we were away, with someone screening my work emails, I received only three messages and sent back two. I sent innumerable text messages to my family, all of which said exactly the same thing: ‘where RU?’

For the almost 200 or so bucks I spent to stay connected, I could have done a lot better. How? Because we mostly stuck together and free wi-fi was everywhere if you knew how to use it. And the kids did know how to use it. And, boy, did they use it!

Stuck in a long line? No problem: Minecraft.

Wondering what a girlfriend would think of this or that trinket or tchotchke? No problem: Snapchat. Take a picture, send it, and like a mayfly it appears for a few seconds only to disappear forever. But that’s still more than enough time to have a friend send a message back and have my little angel ask me in her sweetest voice, “pppppppppppppppppplease can we buy this? She’ll pay me baaaaaaaaaack. I PROMISE!!!” Sure.

I sent a postcard with flowers on it to my mother-in-law and ones with Disney characters on them to my two young nephews. Trying to find postcards was a chore (the selection was dismal) and finding stamps to mail them back turned into a bit of a fiasco since no one sends postcards anymore (who knows what a large die-cut Mickey Mouse card costs to mail), so I just filled up the right side of the card with stamps and hope it makes it to them before Christmas.

Everyone else saw pictures on my daughter’s Facebook page in real time. Crazy but true: we had way more contact with my extended family and friends when we were away than when we are at home. Go figure!

My point in sharing all of this is to say, everyone communicates differently, in different ways and at different times.

Life moves at full speed and we are speeding down the information super highway at the same breakneck pace.

So why, I wonder, do we continue to communicate with prospects and donors as if life is happening in slow motion rather than in real time?

Time and again, I receive fundraising appeals that fall into one of three categories:

1. Same old, same old

2. I’m from Venus, this is from Mars

3. Oh, that’s engaging

SAME: Every direct mail letter I receive looks the same, is the same size and has the same contrived variables in it. Why? Why does every appeal contain a crisis? And why does every crisis come three months after the last crisis?

VENUS: And then just to be different, I get an appeal that’s so weird, and so different that I have to scratch my head in order for me to figure out what’s being asked for or why? Some appeals are so appealing that I figure everything is fine and I wonder why they bothered to ask for money in the first place. Being different is fine, but being out of this world just gets me confused or angry. Or both.

ENGAGING: If the appeal is worthy of a letter send a letter. Send pictures, a field report and some testimonials. Go on, engage me. Make it a mailing that costs extra but that is worth every cent.

If you’ve make a remarkable medical breakthrough or can show me how my money led to a stunning rescue of child soldiers or abused dogs, send me a text or a tweet and embed a video that’s so short that it makes me ask for more. Send one a month, one a week or every once in a blue moon, I’m not keeping track. And I won’t care if it engages me.

Don’t tell me to friend you, make me WANT to friend you. Tell me more videos, more heartwarming testimonials, more success stories are available and make them good! And if they’re good, I’ll share them, really I will.

Why international aid agencies don’t send text messages from the field 10, 20 or 30 times a week showing me how my money is building a hospital or a well or whatever is something I’ll never know.

Contact me once a year or once a week, I don’t care, so long as you speak to me rather than talk at me. Scrap the script, and ask when the best time to connect with me and in what way. Facetime, Skype… sure, why not? Just so long as it’s real.

Ask not for the contents of my wallet, ask for my time so I can take a tour, join a trip, or volunteer a few hours. Once. I’ll do it again (and again) if you were nice to me. And do you know what? Behind my treasure is my talent (my talent got me the treasure, after all), so if you get my talent on your Board or committee or as part of an event or roundtable discussion you’ll likely get more value in that than in anything I could possibly write you a cheque for.

Although I had intended this to be a piece on social media and how charities can use it more effectively, I realize that it’s really become a short article on how to make it and keep it real.

The cries about donor fatigue aren’t about how many times you call or write or email or message someone, it’s about what your intentions are and how you go about it. Constant contact is fine— in fact, it’s encouraged—as long as it’s relevant and interesting and not always aimed at my financial statement.

Consider this: Although churches are in decline and there’s a lot wrong with them, I know, they do one thing unbelievably well; they stay connected. They’re in constant contact with their people. They meet weekly. They ask for money 52 times or more a year and more often than not they get it. They get time and talent in addition to ‘treasure’ and their ROI is without equal. They expect a lot and they get it.

Constant contact isn’t about paying lip service to this or that form of new media. And neither is it about burying people under bags of junk mail. It’s about developing and nurturing a relationship based on a shared vision and equal amounts of give and take.


John VanDuzer

President / Creative Director, WISHART.NET

wishart is a creative powerhouse in the not-for-profit sector. It’s work has helped Canadian charities raise over ONE BILLION dollars in the past decade. John has returned from Florida but the postcards haven’t arrived yet.

Contact John: or 416 535-4876

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