A Donation...Are You Kidding?
By Ron Rosenberg
Sometimes acronyms and clever sayings can be a little, well, cliche, and yet they can give us an easy way to remember important concepts.
And, in this sense, we always seem to come back to our “4 M’s of Marketing” when looking at the examples we share with you here.
“Message, Market, Media, Moment”– these are the essential building blocks of a great marketing message. They’re straightforward, easy to remember, and incredibly accurate.
Yet people seem to ignore the simplicity and effectiveness of this strategy with alarming frequency. Consider, for example, the sales letter from the lawn-care company that was sent to our home–in a community where lawn care is included as part of our homeowner's dues. Or, the mailing from Omaha Steaks that’s sent to a vegetarian.
One of the key marketing concepts we teach is that timing is everything, and with that in mind, let’s look at two examples where college fund-raising activities seemed to be taking place at very inopportune times.
Welcome to My Hurricane!
As you may remember–and as some of you actually experienced, “Super Storm Sandy” hit the northeastern United States in October of 2012, bringing with it over 68 billion dollars in damage to homes, businesses, and roadways. In the midst of this storm, we checked in with some good friends, Janet and Jimmy, who live in a town in coastal New Jersey. We’ve known them for over 30 years; our oldest children were born eight weeks apart, and naturally, we were concerned about them.
Janet explained that she had just come back from her local Shoprite supermarket. She said that there wasn’t a lot of food in the store and that the entryway was packed with a lot of people charging cell phones.
The more she spoke with people and watched the coverage on the news, the more she realized how devastating the situation was becoming.
Janet is a school superintendent, and many of her students' families were facing dire–and even life-threatening situations. Anyone turning on the news, reading a newspaper, or checking their e-mail would understand the devastation facing people in the affected communities.
And yet, that very night, she got a most unexpected call.
The voice on the phone was cheerful and perky, and even though the woman was reading from a script she sounded motivated and sincere. She identified herself as a student from the school where Janet got her undergraduate degree.
The young woman then went on to explain about a special fund-raising initiative the school was starting and asked Janet if she’d like to make a donation to help out.
Really? In the midst of one of the worst natural disasters to hit the area in years, someone was actually calling to ask for a donation for a college fund from a school Janet hadn’t attended in over 30 years?
Now, in all fairness, the young woman who called was almost certainly working off of a list of names; the school itself was three states away, and the storm wasn’t going to be an issue where she was calling from.
But still, the people running that call center should have had the foresight to recognize that perhaps people who live in certain zip codes or whose phones are in certain area codes might be just a little preoccupied at the time. They should have recognized that the only calls these people would be involved in would be communicating with friends and family members...or possibly even asking for help themselves.
I’m Sure You’ll Find a Way...
Timing is everything. If you reach out to prospects at the wrong time, you might as well not even bother.
Asking for donations from people in the middle of a major storm is a waste of effort. So is asking for money from people you know don’t have any.
A very good friend of ours from college was nearing completion of his degree. He had served in the US Navy, and was working towards a career as a professional photographer.
With just one semester left, he was running short of funds. He met with the financial aid staff, but they said there was nothing more they could do.
Desperate for a solution–and wholly committed to his education, he wrote a letter to the president of the university to see if there was anything else that could be done.
The letter was well written, sincere, and to the point. Unfortunately, the response from the president was disappointing...and curt:
“Dear Steve, thanks for your letter and for your commitment to your education here at RIT. I’m sorry that you’re facing some financial challenges, but these are difficult times, and there’s simply no way we can help you right now. But I’m sure you’ll find a way to meet your financial goals.”
Well, he was right and Steve did find a way to pay for that last semester, graduated on time, and went on to have a very successful career.
Congratulations–You Did It!
Not six weeks after graduation, Steve got a letter from the university, which was signed by the president himself.
It wasn’t a personal letter, but a “form letter”–one that was obviously sent to every new graduate.
It read, “Congratulations on graduating and on beginning your next steps. For some of you, this will mean entering the workforce; for others, advanced degrees will be in your future. In any case, I’m sure you’ll agree that your RIT education has prepared you in a unique way for the road that lies ahead, and that’s why we’d like to invite you to make a donation to the Alumni Fund...”
Steve laughed out loud when he got this, and promptly wrote a reply: “Dear Dr. Rose, thanks for your letter and for your commitment to education here at RIT. I’m sorry that you’re facing some financial challenges, but these are difficult times, and there’s simply no way I can help you right now. But I’m sure you’ll find a way to meet your financial goals.”
Message, market, media, moment... get this right and you’ll get results–ignore this, and suffer the consequences.
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