Famous Last Words: Could Help Be on the Way?

A quick mock-up of a mailing that the National Zoo could use to get more donors to give.

How many times in my life have I offered to work for good causes that were in trouble? Pro bono. Free.

I remember the development guy from Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences contacted me for pro bono help. I took him to lunch and regaled him with stories of the Who’s Mailing What! archive of direct mail—over 200,000 mailings going back 25 years. I assembled a sampling of powerful control mailings from museums around the country and delivered them to him. My explanation: these worked. Let’s pick out several we like and “steal smart.”

He never called. Finally, I called him and he told me he did get the packet of mailings I left at the front desk. He passed them around to his staff.

“Did these work?” staffers asked.

“Yes,” the guy said. “Made money.”

“Well they don’t work for us.”

End of story.

In the museum’s revenue crunch, the guy and his entire staff were axed.

A Weakness for Animals
Peggy and I adore animals. We’ve been to Africa three times and have always had dogs, cats and birds. We’ve spent many thousands of dollars on vets and many thousands more on house sitters when we were traveling.

So when I discovered the catastrophe at the National Zoo via the Salon.com article, “‘Stretched resources’ blamed for all hell breaking loose at the National Zoo,” it broke my heart.

I had as a client the Whitney Museum in New York for a number of years. I know about assembling upmarket lists of potential donors in a specific area—plus the business of direct mail copy and design.

I probably could be useful to the folks at the National Zoo in this gawdawful era of sequestration and tight budgets. According to Salon.com, National Zoo animals are dying, running away and being euthanized. Are they going hungry? I couldn’t bear it.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Barry Dennis aka SocratesRedux

    Ah, Denny. Vollunteering is like giving unasked for advice to friends, family and associates…in most cases.
    I too, havve "volunteered," gratis, in the past for Boards and Advisory boards of nationally known organizations. A case in particular stands out. As a first year member and director of the Advisory Board and Marketing Committee, we were asked to do the next year’s Marketing Plan for three issues; corporate and institutional fund raising, schools and sponsors for our educational programs, and recruiting "volunteers" to particpate in our outreach and staffing programs. We did a great job and were ignored on all three. And our marketing committee wasn’t lightwefighta either, all having senior management or ownership in the various businesses we represented. But the paid senior staff and staff volunteers in senior positionsof the nonprofit were a little bit too threartened by the actual work involved, and seemingly threared by the level of professionalism required. And, it wasn’t that they couldn’t do with our plan, they simply found excuses not to, all the while offering lip service-‘we’re thinking about it, we’ll get back to you"-and so it foundered. When pressed the Director suggested I should resign because I was leading the marketing advisory effort and deing too disruptive. I agreed, and emailed my resignation to her and the Board,outlining the sequence if events and my conclusions. Changes were made.

    So, to your efforts. It really bites me that your sincere efforts to help were ignored, but does not surprise me. As to charging for services, the whole purpose of the offer was to prodide help in time of need, so their failure to respond appropriately just lacks the professionalism that should be present. I note here that particular problem IS NOT UNIQUE to nonprofits and charitable orgs. In some cultures, the elder’d knowledge and experience are treated with respect and given substantial weigt in societal (translate: family, clan and tribe (business, insttitutional and municipal) management.
    IIIn our tech age of disruption and rapid evolution-revolution-of marketing, us old guys are deemed too slow, too Luddite, maybe, to participate. But, as I’ve ofter discussed with you, ratiional pragmatism, principles of Know Your Customer, and others long taken to learn and prove, just don’t have expiration dates, and are burnished by the long experiences of our successes and failures in getting "here."
    Be stalwart, stick to your core principles, and the ignorant shall fall away as chaff blown away in the wind of knowledge. Oh, and believe that there are many, many enterprises and organizaTIONS THAT WOULD WELCOME A $10,000 DAY OF HELP FROM A DENNY HATCH, IF IT WERE AVAILALBE.

  • Fred Lederman

    Funny but sad replies to your article. In regard to offering "pro bono" marketing advice to non-profit organizations, the headline most often reads, "No good deed goes unpunished". In 2007, I found better luck charging a very small daily rate and at the end of the project sending a donation and note to the organization in care of the person who gave me the assignment. I thought that was pretty smart. I have stopped doing that several years later because my pro bono client began to want me to act as their agency and not bill them at all….even for out of pocket expenses. Oh yes, when we had lunches or dinners at trade shows, they expected me to pick up the bill because "I was their agency". At this point in my life, I donate money to worthy causes and avoid the aggravation of being used and abused. Too bad because there are a lot of professional marketing executives whose services would absolutely help non-profit organizations. All lost because of ego, ignorance, power plays and greed. As my grandfather used to say, "You don’t learn nothing when you get kicked in the butt a second time by the same mule.".

  • GeorgeM

    Wasn’t it you that said years ago that our time is our stock and trade? I’ve also learned, the hard way, not to throw cash at the incompetent or incorrigible. I still get in trouble though. Just this week in an Adweek review, I got skewered for suggesting the Save Syrian Children campaign needed a serious call to action makeover. If you go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQ-IoHfimQ you will see a very expensive cinematic 90 second video for their fundraising effort, with only an 8-second hashtag at the end! How many of the affluent big-money donors in this country even have a Twitter account? What? Statistically zero? One hipster suggested I was an idiot, a geezer for suggesting an 800 number or traditional URL, another wrote that the objective was to raise awareness, not money for the kids. #getaclue

  • -Killed By Success

    I love, absolutely love, the comment from some marketing person’s underling about mailings that worked, "Well, they don’t work for us." Declared, of course, without testing.

    Years ago, at a major direct response agency, I was put in charge of creative for an account that had a reputation for being boring, difficult, and unsuccessful. The rumor was, the account was looking at other agencies. I discovered two things: 1) the creative department’s "attitude" could get any client’s nose out of joint and 2) the work had been more or less constantly off-target, off-image, late, and ineffective.

    Within a year, I managed to turn the account around. We started winning awards – both Echo and Caples. The client was happy. Then I got smacked in the face. I was told, "You’re in big trouble." I asked why. "Ask the people in your creative group," the creative guy above e said.

    I asked. The problem was, I was told, that I wasn’t "collaborative" enough. I was bringing the client the work I thought it should get, and not polling the entire creative group for its collective opinions. So they had taken a vote and decided I should go.

    In view of the evident power of this ad hoc committee, thought that going was a good idea, too. I transferred into another group. Two weeks later, the account made a request to continue using me, leaving my original group scrambling for business. But my career growth was stymied by that event. I was told that while the account was going to keep me, I would not be permitted to run it, or any other business. Several years later, I left the agency. A year after that, the account followed me out the door, found out I was freelancing, and became the mainstay of a freelance business that sustained me very comfortably for about six years.

    It ended when somebody got to the account’s parent company, which in turn ordered them to stop using freelancers and hire an agency. Most of the account’s senior marketing people quit. The new ones hired an agency and soon after went into a tailspin. The parent company spun them off. They’re still in business today, but under a new name and new management. All the people who originally built the business are gone.

    The bottom line: There’s a difference between two people collaborating on advertising on one hand, and imposing the equivalent of a creative "committee" to judge and "fix" the advertising on the other. The committee, and those who listened to them, fixed themselves into oblivion.

    Sorry, for obvious reasons I’m not going to sign this one with my name.

  • Ray Ammari

    Having spent thousands of dollars and countless hours saving defenseless animals hit by cars or abused by humans these stories always break my heart. I always feel better nurturing these castaways back to health and finding them their original homes or a new loving home. I feel I’m not doing enough,wishing I could and should do more to save them all. Often, as I deal with the "superior species" I wonder why it’s the animals who must suffer and too often be euthanized. One is not only judged by how he treats his fellow man but how he treats all living things. Especially animals. Denny, in regards to what you have done and continue trying to do, the jury is in. Thank You!

  • Bern

    How sad . . . but you cannot save people from themselves. I served on a nfp board once that had a big idea for raising funds by publishing a cookbook. I knew printing, advertising, design, pricing, and from the costs being presented I knew the committee was wasting money and would produce a sub-par product that had no chance of paying for itself never mind raising any money. The President of the Board basically said, well, the committee will pay for it if it doesn’t make money. And that’s exactly what they wound up doing.