It’s time to stop… the big check photo

Every nonprofit has a photo like this somewhere:

ansari_x-prize_check

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to do.  It’s a photo that your corporate partner can use on their Web site or in their annual report as a way of showing their commitment to the community.  And, among a still-sadly-plurality-older-white-male business community, the big check sends the message to other business people in the audience:

Your check is too small.

And this, to stereotype broadly, is not an audience that wants their anything to be too small.

But for goodness sakes: do not put this big check picture in your donor communications.

Ever.

Because it sends the message “your check is too small.”  This is sometimes a message you want to send.  We’ve talked about social proof nudges like “the average donor gives $X” as an upgrade strategy for people who don’t know what the socially acceptable amount is.  (Side note: can any of my readers let me know what the proper amount is to tip a shared-ride (Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, etc.) driver?)

But that is usually trying to get a person to increase their gift by double or less.  What you are saying with the big check is:

  • “What you are giving is 1/10000th of what this person is giving”
  • This is how we treat people who give us things like this: note that we look to be dressed nicely at what appears to be a fancy hotel and really yucking it up with each other.”
  • “This is how we treat people who give us what you give: we send them this letter.”

Needless to say, this is not a response rate booster.  And, since the amount is so far off from not only what they give, but what they could possibly give, it is not an effective anchor for a higher gift.

It also indicates that this type of thing is what you do with your time as nonprofit employees.  This doesn’t help us dispel the overhead myth that we should have Robin Leach narrating the story of our non-profit; it reinforces it.

But the most grievous sin the picture has (and this goes for award pictures and ribbon cutting ceremonies): it’s not about the donor.  Remember that for the donor, you are a means to the end that they are hoping to create in the world.  The opportunity cost of that photo is immense when you could be showing visual proof of the impact the donor is having on the world.

It is a cultural shift because the big check photo is one of those things that is done.  But it shouldn’t be.

Instead, ask if you could also get photos of your corporate partner, grantor, or their employees doing some of your mission work.  Someone in a logoed polo shirt planting a tree or serving on your crisis phone line or reading a story to children is something you can use in your communications.  And it helps cement the bond between you and the person who gave you the big check.  Because they are (hopefully) in it for the impact as well and having a photo of trees, services, or kids is a far better reminder of that than phony grins and foam core.

It’s time to stop… the big check photo

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