Non-profit Marketing: Donors don't care about you

March 20, 2007

Posted in Small Business.

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing for non-profits, as one of my major involvements right now is helping Camp Fire USA and Camp Tannadoonah (the summer camp where my wife serves as camp director). I caught this excellent piece:

From Marketing for Charitable Nonprofit Organizations at

“Here is where many organizations make a serious mistake. They fail to recognize who the potential donor represents. That donor really is paying the bill on behalf of the indigent hospital patient. Yet, when the hospital approaches a foundation, corporation, or individual donor for contributions, it usually couches its request in terms of money for the hospital, not the indigent patient.”

This applies to normal marketing. People don’t want to hear about how their purchase will help your company. They want to hear stories about how it will help them. Benefactors don’t care about your organization, they care about the people who benefit from your organization. Tell them stories – and give them an action that they can use to buy into those stories.


  1. Alice — March 21, 2007

    I am a volunteer with Camp Fire in Columbus, Ohio.
    Would you care to share any other insights with us? We are marketing our summer camp as well. We have a Web presence and lawn signs and posters and we are distributing brochures in schools.
    We also get a booth at the camp fairs.
    Our camp is called Camp Wyandot.
    Thanks in advance. You are supporting a fantastic organization! (but I’m sure you know that.)

  2. Wild Bill — March 21, 2007

    This is so correct. I went to a Camp Fire USA Heart of Oklahoma Council Board of Directors meeting last night. The Council is completely clueless as to why they are about to run out of money.

    A group of Camp Fire parents and kids showed up at the meeting to save Camp Cimarron our residential camp where kids goto summer camp. These parents and kids had sold candy to help Camp Fire and to pay for their children to goto summer camp at Cimarron. The council voted to close Camp Cimaron for the first time in 66 years.

    One of the Board members lectured the parents and kids about how it was our obligation to sell candy to save the council. We have no obligation to save their inept council that has almost bankrupted the Oklahoma City area Camp Fire group. We sold candy to got the camp they shut down. Now they will use the candy money to pay the council’s expenses and salaries long enough so that they can get loans on other Camp Fire properties.

    They tried to make the parents and kids feel guilty that the reason they were in trouble is because we didn’t sell enough candy. They tried to make us feel guilty that we wanted our kids to be able to goto the summer camp instead of saving their inept council and paying their salaries.

    Why would we want to save the council that got the organization into this mess and closed down our camp? We proposed that we would hold our own fund raiser and pay all of the costs of opening the camp for summer this year, but the council said no, made up a bunch of excuses and actually suggested we should give them the money we raise to make up for their budget shortfall instead of being so selfish.

    The one thing that most of the board could agree on was that they had no experience raising funds. It was obvious, the people that wanted to raise funds in exchange for their children to goto summer camp were laughed at called out of order and heckled. Someone actually said to a 9 year old girl, “Why don’t you spend more time selling candy instead of making protest signs to save a camp we already voted to shut down.”

    The result of this meeting is that all of us that worked so hard for the Oklahoma area Camp Fire will now spend all of our spare time raising funds to buy our own camp and convincing all the other members to stop helping this Board of Directors that are only concerned with not being found responsible for anything.

    I really wish that the Board members had read this post, they might have realized why their membership had fallen from over 10,000 to under 1,000 in such a small amount of time.

  3. chas — March 21, 2007

    Alice: I’ve got a post coming that will explain some of our marketing efforts. I’m reading a lot about non-profit marketing right now and I expect I’ll have plenty of inspiration in the coming weeks.

    Bill: I empathize with your situation. My advice is to hang in there and continue working to keep the camp going. Camp Fire USA councils are governed by the national organization, so you may find assistance there. After some difficult years, our council found a great resource in a new Executive Director – the outside perspective and experience she brings has been refreshing. I’m optimistic. Good luck!

  4. Alice — March 22, 2007

    Oh Bill! No! Similar thing happened in Chicago. The camp needs to be a MONEYMAKER not a money siphon. That’s ridiculous if they can’t get the camp to make money. I assume they are going to borrow against the land?
    National is inept at providing adequate support to councils. Our Central Ohio Council foundered for many years before finally getting a good CEO. I hope your council gets one too. That is ridiculous. My heart aches because I know how important a camp and its traditions are.

  5. Half-truths aren't cool. — August 29, 2007

    Wild Bill should tell the whole story and not just the bits and pieces that support his side on every site he can get his hands on. Maybe it should also be stated that the closing did not come as a shock to his family. Seeing as that is one of the excuses given for his family members not selling candy this year, I’m not sure saying that they sold candy to go to camp is very honest. (Look at the comments in his blogs.) That’s just one thing but there are plenty more.

    And why did this become an issue of “I do for you, now you do for me.”? I’m still a little confused why in a time of need some feel that it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a chasm in, as stated above, a weakened organization. Shouldn’t this be a time where we all come together and work towards a common goal? I think some people have forgotten what it means to be in Camp Fire. It’s not about going to camp or boards of directors. It’s about being a part of an organization that gives service to the community and builds leadership and life skills in youth. What are you teaching all these children about ‘service’? That you should always expect something in return? This council is hurting and in order for it to stay a council, it had to make some tough decisions. I’m sorry if that upsets you but camp is not the only program offered for youth and by refusing to participate in anything else (like Wild Bill’s family has decided) they make it extremely hard to give their argument any sort of credibility.

    It should also be noted that there were arrangements made for those displaced by the closing to attend another camp in the neighboring Tulsa council with the candy credits they earned selling candy.