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When Humor Can Be Very Effective in Fundraising Marketing Campaigns

Resource Center - Foundation

By MP Mueller

(Jan. 5, 2010) Up until a few years ago, insurance companies used doom and gloom scenarios to get people to insurance up. Then, they figured that, just like you and me, people connect with something that makes them laugh. Branding 101 ... make a true emotional connection with someone. Now, today's insurance companies have quacking ducks, cavemen and a talking gecko in their marketing programs. What insurance companies and their advertisers learned was that the beat-down method wasn't working, so they took the positive, fun carrot approach to insuring. It has worked. Can it for fundraisers?

What Members are Saying About this Article...

This approach worked well for us this year. We had several short video clips produced to promote our giving catalog, or on youtube. The goat video is the best, in my opinion. enjoy!

Fran Troxler
Director for Mission Advancement
Lutheran World Relief
Baltimore, Md.


I am glad you encouraging self deprecating humor. My husband was very surprised that I included a joke on me in an article for our quarterly newsletter. I am the Dev. officer--we had just started a bequest society. As you probably know, anyone who thinks well enough of your organization to hold them in this esteem, is a blessed member! So when this guy called and invited me to talk with him, I was thrilled. After a pleasant meeting, his wife told me that she had challenged her clever wordsmith husband to write a limerick on my behalf:

They convened at Claudia's behest
to agree on his Land Trust bequest
Upon which she then said,
"I wish that you were dead!--
In fact dying today would be best!"

It still makes me giggle...and no I did not say it...but I do enjoy showing feigned dismay when I see him looking well.

Claudia E. Swain
Director of Development
South Kingstown Land Trust
Wakefield, R.I.

While there may be room for the serious Sally Struthers Save the Children approach in today's fundraising world, fundraisers still need to show people the rewards for their charity dollars and the ultimate feel good that can come from that. And this is a place where humor can abound.

First, let's be clear and honest ... with humor, there is always a risk of offending someone.  Anytime you step out from the norm, you'll hear about it from people who think plain vanilla is just fine. But, unlike you, they are not in charge of awareness or fundraising and plain vanilla simply can't garner attention in today's crowded message place. Here are a few approaches to consider to jumpstart creative thinking for successful, humorous marketing campaigns.

To generate some humorous marketing ideas, let's start with looking into the connection as to why people give. Besides wanting to make a difference and help, people also give for recognition, events, socialization and redemption. This was a vein we tapped into for a campaign for the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas, a type of organization not necessarily known for engaging in humorous marketing initiatives.  

TV spots were developed that featured people doing underhanded, sneaky things or interacting with folks in a less than hospitable way. People were shown pushing the close button on the elevator door instead of holding it for a woman with a load of boxes. Another advertisement showed a person dumping a shopping cart on the parking lot median instead of toting it to a corral. For each spot, the announcer drolly asks, "Need to Redeem Yourself? Give blood and save two lives." The humorous ads were a big hit internally, and externally. During the most recent media run, turnout of blood donors was up by nearly 50 percent!
What's in it for your donors?

Doing good is a two-way street. When we do good, we feel good about ourselves. In this way, interestingly, giving can be a wonderfully selfish act in a non-ego-driven way. This motivational element is not often addressed, though, in nonprofit marketing campaigns. To encourage adoptions of homeless pets, The Austin Humane Society used soulful pictures of dogs and cats in their ads, with each pet appearing lonely.  The headlines read "One word:  Wingman", an indirect, yet impactful reference that pets as companions can boost one's social quotient with the opposite sex by at least 10 points on the running trail. The campaign garnered national attention, increasing adoptions and new donors for The AHS.
Who doesn't love a self-deprecator?

Yes, fundraisers, your mission is serious, noble and admirable. So are all the other nonprofits jonesing for donations. If you poke fun at aspects of your nonprofit (everyone has them), you let people know that you have foibles and tease points.  

In a new campaign for The Alamo, (the historical mission in San Antonio that is kind of the poster child for heroism, bravery and freedom), the 280-plus year icon wasn't afraid to be fodder for their own campaign cannons. An ad promoting their new membership group features a picture of Davy Crockett, his famous rifle among a scene from the infamous battle with the Mexican Army. The headline reads "Real Courage is Fighting 2,000 Men while Wearing a Hat with a Tail." This ad consistently gets chuckles followed by that wonderful sound of checkbooks being whipped out.

When you couple self-deprecation with an impactful message in your advertising efforts, you'll often trigger a positive emotional response. When that happens, more often than not, your audience will feel more comfortable with your organization, will invite you in emotionally, and maybe, just maybe, add to your fundraising levels. If it doesn't work, go down to your local comedy club, and heckle a comedian - you'll feel better. 

MP Mueller is president of Door Number 3. (, an advertising, media and interactive agency based in Austin, Texas. Mueller was a successful stand-up comedian for over two years.

SEND US YOUR FEEDBACK: What is your feeling on using humor in fundraising? Has this approach worked for you? Let AFP eWire readers know what your organization has done to raise funds through humorous marketing. Email and please put "Fundraising With Humor" in the subject line.

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