I bet you have a lot of personal integrity, don't you? You try to follow through on your commitments, you basically always tell the truth, and you keep your daily doings on the up and up - no shady business for you - no, ma'am.
And all that good behavior pays off over time. People trust you and they're not afraid to get close to you because they know what to expect and can depend on your sincerity. Having integrity shows others that you take their feelings seriously and that you are responsible with relationships.
But what does it mean to have organizational integrity? Being a trustworthy nonprofit doesn't begin and end with fiscal responsibility and it doesn't only apply to your programs and services. The answer can be found throughout your operations; in the communications you send, the promises you make, and the way you raise money.
Take the example below that was forwarded to me by a client, for instance. It's a screenshot of a conference registration page with an "Add-On" box for a donation to the annual fund. Good idea; some people who attend the conference and enjoy it may be inclined to help fund it.
But here’s where it became obnoxious: the box was prefilled with $50. A certain percentage of people will not realize that this amount has already been entered and will advance to the next page with an unintended markup. And another percentage of those people will either not notice or will decide to leave it in their cart.
But MOST people, I’m betting, will either have to manually delete or change the $50 or use the back button to undo the donation - adding an unnecessary step to the process. And, once they realize the situation, they may not want to make any gift at all out of spite. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about society over the last few years it’s this: people do not like to be told what to do. Even when it’s a good thing.
This pretty obnoxious annual fund scheme gives slimy online sales vibes - probably not the look this organization was going for. In their defense, though, they probably thought this idea was clever and that the increase in the percentage of people who end up giving (knowingly or otherwise) would be worth the try. Ends justifying means and all that.
Maybe they got bad advice from their registration-page software provider. Or perhaps it was listed somewhere under “best practices.” Or maybe it was just a well-meaning person's bright idea.
But is it actually worth it? Sure, they may make a few extra bucks - and some people, we must acknowledge, may be happy to donate - but how will most people feel after this transaction? Is it worth the risk of leaving registrants feeling mildly annoyed, briefly put off, or at worst, downright angry?
Furthermore, does tricking or pressuring people to donate represent integrity? Does this “Fast Eddie” style fundraising build trust and connection?
Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that orgs not ask for donations during other transactions or that they ought not be bold about it -they should! But there's a big difference between asking for a gift and assuming one. (Besides, $50 feels like a hefty assumption considering that the registrants are nonprofits as well. If you're going to force a gift, at least make it a nominal one.)
So, how could they have done it better? Remove the pre-populated amount and instead add a sentence or two ASKING for a suggested donation of $50 and explaining WHY it will help the organization. Treating registrants like adults with free will and excellent judgment is a much better way to welcome guests to a conference, methinks.
Before you try the latest gimmick or "best practice" with your fundraising - remember this obnoxious AF example and be sure your choices reflect the level of integrity you deliver elsewhere in your organization. Clever isn't always better.
UPDATE: To make matters worse, when my client tried to purchase a conference ticket without adding an annual fund donation, an error message appeared that said, "Annual Fund Donation Amount field is required." So, any shred of an illusion of choice vanished into thin air - along with all my respect.