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  • Pat Libby

Frighteningly Bad Fundraising

Since we’re welcoming a new season of ghouls, goblins, ghosts and witches (no, this isn’t a political blog), I thought I’d share my latest tale of frighteningly bad fundraising.

I almost called it, “What does it take to scare off a hefty four figure gift?”

This latest episode in my lifelong career as a nonprofit professional and donor (my parents raised me right!) involved a major hospital.

Here’s what happened:

This past July, I had an MRI to monitor whether an old bout of Cancer had decided to reappear (thankfully, it hadn’t).

I HATE MRI’s! (Despite feeling enormously grateful for the technology and health insurance.)

I’m slightly claustrophobic on a good day. And, it’s especially nerve-racking lying stick-still in a tube knowing its purpose is to look for signs of a tumor.

If you’ve never had an MRI, I am happy for you!

If you have had one, you know that the noise that most MRI machines emit make an ACDC concert seem like a quiet interlude. The whole experience (speaking for myself) is horrible beyond belief.

I mentioned this to the MRI technician who casually responded that software is available to mute the sound.

So I’m lying in the MRI tube for 45 (interminable) minutes thinking, “How much does that software cost because I’m going to make a MAJOR gift so this hospital can get it right away?!”

Are you with me so far?

The next day I do what every potential donor does. I call the development department and leave a message for someone to call me back.

No one does.

Ever (to this day I have not received a return call).

A few days later, I receive a quality assurance survey via email with the name and telephone number of the doc who runs the department. I think, “Great! I’ll contact him.”

I call the doc.

Someone else calls me back that afternoon.

After a few phone calls, I have a conversation with a woman who administers the MRI department. We talk about the software, how much it costs, how it works, stuff like that.

She tells me what it costs (it’s not insanely expensive) AND that it doesn’t work for MRI’s that are looking for the type of Cancer I had.

So I say, “Listen, I’d donate money to help ANYONE avoid that kind of experience!”

She says, “Wow; that would be great! How generous of you! I’m sure that people who are here for Brain Cancer, Prostrate Cancer and other types of Cancer scans would really appreciate it.”

I say, “The cost is much more than I can afford alone, but I can call a few friends and help make it happen. Just let me know the details.”

In my mind, this is such an important thing, that I’m willing to write a BIG check for this software, call my sis and a few friends to see if they’d chip in, and put up a Go-Fund-Me page.

It’s been nearly three months.

No one has called me back.

A good development department would have:

  • Called me back within a day or two

  • Asked to meet with me in person (this way they could have ascertained how serious I was about making a gift and fished around for how much I was considering)

  • Responded with the information I requested in a timely way or, told me, in a timely way, why they were having difficulty getting the information I had asked for

  • Worked with me to identify additional donors

  • Put together materials I could use to send to potential donors

  • Followed-up with me in a respectful and supportive way.

Instead, I am left hanging, the patients are left to suffer through the deafening noise, and the hospital is left without a gift.

And, the friends and family members who I would have asked to contribute funding for the MRI software have instead heard about how incompetent the hospital is in its fundraising.

As a result, the hospital has lost out – not only on my donation but on gifts that other people might have made both now and in the future. Who, after all, wants to contribute to an organization that has no follow through?

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out the moral of this story. If you want to raise funds, you need to be responsive to donors.


Pat Libby is a management consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations since 1978.

Get in touch if you have any questions!


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