The Hidden Dangers of Fundraising Thermometers

You should never announce a fundraising goal at the beginning of your Paddle Raiser. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, because challenging your audience to stretch seems like a good idea. 

The problem is that if you’re going to announce a goal at the very beginning of your paddle raiser, you’d better be super duper extra duper confident that you’ve picked the right goal.

 

Let’s say that the company that’s handling your check-in, check-out has a fundraising thermometer they can put on the screen, so the entire audience can see exactly how much money has been raised and how close they’re getting to the goal.

That sounds great, in theory, but the reality of fundraising thermometers makes me feel like Edna the Super Hero Uniform Designer from the movie “Incredibles”. Take 45 seconds out of your day to have a laugh.  

Watch the “No Capes!!!!!” scene from “The Incredibles” during which she emphatically points out all of the super heroes who have met their demise because of their capes.

That’s how I feel about fundraising thermometers.

No thermometers! :-)

The one big upside about announcing a goal and using a fundraising thermometer is that you get the audience very focused on the goal.

GOAL FOCUSED

Getting the audience focused on a financial goal can be powerful, because groups of people do get motivated when they see a visible finish line.

By checking the thermometer, the audience will always know “exactly” how much money they’ve raised as a team, which is good. Audiences like to be able to keep score.

As the fundraising gets closer and closer to the goal, you can inspire more people to raise their paddles to become part of the team.

You can plan a great celebration when you reach the target (e.g. “We did it!!” on the screen along with cheering and clapping and music) which will give the audience a great sense of accomplishment.

Those are the upsides, and they sound like compelling reasons to use a fundraising thermometer. However, we believe the downsides far outweigh the upsides.

Here are the downsides.

A BIG NUMBER IS INTIMIDATING

Sharing a fundraising goal such as $100,000 or $150,000 or $200,000 can feel pretty intimidating to your audience. The people who were planning to give $250 or $100 might feel that their gift is so minuscule that it won’t make much difference, so they immediately feel discouraged, and unimportant.

A    S  L  O  W   START IS DISCOURAGING

If you don’t get a few big donations right at the beginning to take a big bite out of the goal, the whole audience starts to get discouraged.

  1. For example, if you had a $100,000 goal, ideally you’d want at least one person at $10,000 and at least two people at $5,000, so you’ve quickly achieved 20% of the goal, and the whole audience feels inspired.
  2. But if you get crickets at the $10,000 level and then maybe just one person at $5,000, then the $95,000 that’s remaining feels overwhelming to the audience. People will mentally check out.

                                                                HIGH?
WHAT IF THE GOAL IS SET TOO

Let’s say that you raised $85,000 in last year’s paddle raiser, and this year you’ve set a goal of $100,000. You announce that goal at the start of the paddle raiser and put your fundraising thermometer on the screen.

Your audience members give generously, and exceed last year’s total, but the donations peter out at $92,000. So they did $7,000 better than last year, which is reason to celebrate. But there is no celebration, because the thermometer on the screen is showing them that they’re still $8,000 short of the goal.

Now everyone in the audience who stretched to their highest total ever, feels as if they’ve failed.

WHAT IF YOU SET THE GOAL TOO 
                                                                    LOW?

On the other end of the spectrum, what happens if you set your fundraising goal too low, and halfway through your paddle raiser, the fundraising thermometer on the screen screams, “Goal Achieved! You did it!”

But you’ve still got four levels remaining?

Everyone who has not yet given is suddenly off the hook. They don’t need to continue to contribute, because you’ve already achieved your goal.

You can try to coax them forward saying, “Hey, we’ve reached the goal, but let’s see how much further we can go.” But this will sound somewhat hollow to the audience. The challenge has been met, so there’s no reason to keep giving.

NO ANNOUNCING GOALS AT THE START AND NO FUNDRAISING THERMOMETERS

We believe that the benefits you gain from telling the audience a goal at the very beginning of the paddle raiser, are not worth the risks that you invite.

USE INCREMENTAL GOAL SETTING INSTEAD

So does this mean that you should never set a goal? Of course not. You just shouldn’t set a big goal at the beginning. Instead, just start your fundraising, and plan to use dynamic incremental goals. For example, let’s say you had 7 people at $1,000, you could set an incremental goal of $10,000 at that level and try to persuade three more people to contribute $1,000 each.

Or let’s say you have 15 people at $500, you could ask for one more person at $500 to get to an even $8,000.

As you go through your paddle raiser, you’re allowing the natural pauses in the donations to create incremental goals. When the audience stops just shy of a landmark, it’s easy to ask them to stretch just a little bit more to reach it.

ANNOUNCE A BIG GOAL NEAR THE END IF IT SEEMS ACHIEVABLE

If you’re at $90,000 heading into the $250 level, that’s the time to announce to the audience that you have an overall goal of $100,000, and challenge them to try to reach it.

If you get 24 people at $250 ($6,000 total), and 40 people at $100 ($4,000 total), you’ll reach the goal.

When you’re close to the end, and close to your big number, that’s the time to make an announcement to the audience.

This is just one of the many topics we cover in our comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Record-Breaking Paddle Raiser. You can download a copy for free by clicking here.

Happy Fundraising!