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Can Fundraising be Funny?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan Fundraising be Funny?

Look at the first three letters in fundraising. Do you see the word? We do, too. Fun. So it begs the question. Can we all have a little fun while raising funds? Can marketing campaigns for non-profit organizations tickle the funny bone? Can humor bring higher returns for fundraising events? Possibly, yes.

Let’s take insurance companies. One would think accidents are serious business that demand serious advertisements. But the current advertising trend is the exact opposite. And it seems to be a hit. Instead of witnessing serious car accidents, we laugh with talking ducks, downtrodden cavemen and a goofy gecko.

The insurance companies may have struck on a universal cord.  They figured out people like to smile more than frown.  Laughter makes people feel good.  And when people feel good, they buy.  Humor brings together all ages, races, genders and classes.  There are no barriers in laughter.

According to a 1993 study in the Journal of Marketing, humor is “more likely to secure audience attention, increase memorability, overcome resistance, and enhance message persuasiveness.”

A recent article in the Association of Fundraising Professionals, “When Humor Can Be Very Effective in Fundraising Marketing Campaigns,” reports on the benefits of using humor in fundraising.  It touches on the reasons people give.  Besides wanting to help, people give for recognition, socialization and redemption.  The article gives examples of some relatively recent marketing campaigns that used the fun in fundraising to raise awareness and build a stronger base of donors and participants.

Here are a few examples:

The Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas tapped into redemption by using television advertisements that featured people doing some not-so-nice things.  In one, a person left a shopping cart in the parking lot median instead of lugging it back to its rightful place.  Another showed a person pushing the “close” button in an elevator instead of holding it for someone who was running to catch it.  In each spot, an announcer says, “Need to redeem yourself?  Give blood and save two lives.”  The campaign seemed to be a success.  During the most recent advertising run, blood donors were up almost 50 percent.

The Austin Humane Society used various lighthearted sayings of how dogs and cats will help their owners.  Next to individual pictures of lonely-looking dogs, captions read, “One Word: Wingman” and “You, Bert. Me, Ernie.”  Next to a cat, the caption reads, “Prepare to be Loved. And Ignored.”

“I love Boobies,” a more lighthearted campaign that has made huge waves, was created by the Keep A Breast Foundation.  Whatever you think of the campaign, it has made a big impact, especially on younger generations.  People of each gender wear bracelets, put on t-shirts and done bumper stickers, declaring their love for boobies.  It’s more of a lighthearted way to say that women are important and critical to our society.  The campaign has expanded awareness of breast cancer to young people and has converted this once overlooked segment of society into donors and active participants.  However, the campaign has not been without controversy. Schools across the country have banned the bracelets.  News agencies have picked up the stories.  The internet has lit up with young adults chatting.  But for this non-profit organization: Mission Accomplished.  Even in the controversy, young adults are participating in a cause they once didn’t care about.  All this buzz has created a word loved by every non-profit organization: awareness.

It should go without saying that using humor can be risky business.  Much thought and attention needs to go into the approach of a funny fundraising campaign to make sure it’s not offensive.  It’s important to know your audience — your donors.  You should play off a common bond you both share and make sure the humor is relavent to your cause and objective.  Try not to go overboard with your humor — take the less-is-more approach.  If you’re unsure, first test it out on a few donors or friends to see if it flies.  If not, toss it.

For your next marketing distribution, consider funny – or at least a more lighthearted approach to your fundraising.  You just might find some real fun in fundraising – and the impact could mean some real funds to your non-profit organization.

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