Sunday, March 3, 2024



Pro-tip: If your pitch is patronizing, you’re gonna strike out

December 10, 2019 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongPurpose
Let’s say you’re the female director of institutional advancement for a local nonprofit. You’ve been in fundraising for a decade, almost exclusively in roles where you’re overseeing every aspect of an organization’s fundraising strategy. You’re very active with the local association of fundraising professionals and well connected to fellow fundraisers.

So, when you get an email from a local sports team (initially sent to a program manager, but forwarded to you) inviting you to partner with them, in a program with “a fundraising element,” you’re skeptical.

But you see that they’ve attached a flyer for an upcoming game where they’re collecting canned goods, and your agency’s pantry is low on non-perishables. Given no other details about this “partnership,” you respond asking for more information.

The response is a standard sales pitch: if you sell ticket packages for upcoming games, you’ll earn a portion of each sale as a donation.

You politely reply that you’re not interested. You, against your better judgement, decide to send a basic overview of why these types of programs aren’t actually very helpful to most nonprofits. After all, this seems like a new program — the first email didn’t have much detail, and there wasn’t an information sheet or any marketing materials attached explaining the program.

You’re tired of companies pitching these “no investment” opportunities — especially on the heels of being bombarded with requests from Amazon to promote Amazon Smile for #GivingTuesday (another rant for another day).

Along with your polite email declining the offer, you outline why  these ticket-sale-for-donation programs aren’t really a good value for nonprofits:

  • They’re labor intensive. Very few nonprofits have a large enough donor base, or a large enough social following, to send one communication that results in a large number of ticket sales. Many of these programs have a minimum requirement and the time it takes for most nonprofits to solicit the ticket sales to hit that minimum costs more than the funds you’ll receive as a donation.

  • They’re free advertising — but not for you. This type of program is designed to put the sports team’s name in front of people it would not otherwise wouldn’t have access to — your supporters. Their name will be promoted, with some very positive messaging attached touting their commitment to supporting the community, to your entire mailing list. Probably multiple times, as you scramble to sell tickets to increase your “donation.”

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  • They’re free labor — again, not for you. You’re essentially acting as an unpaid salesperson for this sports team. Your nonprofit is being paid a small commission for your efforts, which is certainly not equivalent to your hourly rate, and it’s being called a donation.

And that, you mistakenly think, is that.

Until you get a series of follow up emails that are increasingly condescending and full of mansplaining.

The first starts off with a reminder that the (male) sender intended to connect with the (male) manager and their program exclusively. Never mind that you’re in charge of all fundraising activities for the agency, this sender wants what they want.

That condescending statement is followed with a reminder that “membership requires virtually no investment of money or manpower,” which completely ignores your previous email explaining why this program indeed does require an investment of manpower, paid for with money. As a woman, you’re unsurprised at this mansplaining of your own job to you —because it happens all the time.

And yet, your ego can’t quite let this go. You respond to clarify what your previous email said: that this does require time and money. You’re familiar with this model, and so are your fellow fundraisers. And you’re not interested.

That email is met with two responses, both from men:

  • The original sender asks “You’ve partnered with the XXX Association before? I was not aware of any XXX teams in this area that have ties with local non profits outside of XXX.” That response already should be found beside the actual definition of patronizing in the dictionary, but it’s followed with a request that you send any connections that might be interested in this program to them. As if, after explaining not once, but twice, why the program is not worthwhile, you may actually consider sharing it with other people — who you’ve already explained, agree with your assessment that it’s a waste of resources. Sure.

  • The CEO of the organization chimes-in, in a separate email, reiterating that the program “was designed to be non-labor intensive,” and it “could generate significant income, great awareness with little effort.” He also recommends that you meet with the original sender to discuss it further. Despite the fact that you’ve said, twice, that you are not interested in this program. At all.

Fed up now at these men who seem to be discounting your expertise and cannot stop themselves from telling you that you’re wrong, you respond one more time.

You reiterate, simply, that the only organization benefiting from this arrangement is them. You also reiterate that you’re not interested. You conclude by telling them that you don’t appreciate being told that you’re wrong or asked condescending questions, and wrap up with a request not to be contacted further.

Rather than heed your request to stand down, not one, but BOTH men decide they need to have the last word.

The original sender feels the need to clarify that you were the one who asked for more information on the program. As if, by asking for the details that were not initially provided to you, you were at fault.

The CEO wants to remind you that, not only do all of the major sports leagues run this program (you brought this up already when explaining you familiarity with the program), but there are some sports leagues that require nonprofits to run concession stands in order to receive donations. He tells you that, as a nonprofit, you should be grateful that they’re willing to give a “donation” in exchange for office work — instead of straight up requiring manual labor.

He concludes with: “During this holiday season, there is no reason for your hostile attitude. This program is designed to help, not hurt local organizations, and there are many in Philadelphia that need more awareness and revenue. Good luck with whatever it is you do with your time, which I am sure is donated.”

While you’re not sure how your time being donated comes into the equation — given that you are a paid professional — you’re certain no hostility was ever expressed in your emails.

You stood up for what you know to be true: this program is not helpful to a large majority of nonprofits. You called out condescension and gaslighting by name. You maintained your composure while not one but two men — who have no relevant experience in your field — told you that your experience, in your specific area of expertise, was wrong.

There are two things at play here, and unfortunately neither is unique:

  • For-profit companies using their so-called charitable activities to promote themselves while assuming that nonprofits are so desperate for support they’ll happily take whatever handouts they can get.

  • Men ignoring the expertise of women in the workplace, and talking down to them without fear of consequence.

This shit is infuriating and exhausting — even to me, a white woman with a whole lot of privilege not afforded to my fundraising peers who are women of color.

In this specific instance, the joke’s on the men leading this local semi-pro team. I have zero tolerance for the way they handled this situation, and I’m not afraid to write about it.

I hope they’ll actually reflect on their behavior seeing it here in print — since they clearly did not care to do so as they engaged in the actions outlined in the email threadabove.

And, to the other men reading this: do better.


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