The Danger of Automatic Creativity

Creating direct response fundraising is often dangerously simple. Because direct response fundraisers, as a group, so often rely on tried-and-true campaign concepts, creative specialists can be lulled into “automatic creativity.”

We’ve even coined automatic descriptors for these tried-and-true concepts: the Matching Grant, the Year-End E-Appeal, the Follow-Up, the Card Package, etc. Campaigns designed to create predictable, incremental RFM upticks.

It’s easy, in the middle of crunch time, to fall into mechanical creative habits in order to get the project(s) out the door. Furthermore, the mantra of “best practice,” overlaid on building incremental improvements to successful tests, argues against rethinking the tried-and-true.

It should be no surprise, then, that we’ve created controls that exhibit only nominal performance improvements, if at all.

Still, we hang onto these ubiquitous solutions until they cease to solve much of anything anymore. That’s because we have created donors that have wearied of the very techniques we leaned on, in the first place, to acquire and retain them. And these days, in a wildly competitive nonprofit landscape, with a dizzying array of channels in which to receive messages, controls wear out at an alarming rate.

Familiarity breeds contempt, never more so than in direct response fundraising. It’s a multi-culprit failure in marketing groupthink, the responsibility for which shared by all on the development team.

One of the culprits is automatic creativity. Automatic creativity starts with a technique, not the donor. And that’s dangerous.

Here’s why.

When we write and design to meet page length and format requirement, we forget to write and design messaging that resonates with the donor. When the message we send must be wrapped around an organizational brand asset first, we de-emphasize the important role the donor has in the solution. When we focus on the action the donor must take, we necessarily understate the benefit the donor will receive, even when that benefit is simply the feeling of satisfaction that generosity brings to the human spirit.

Beware automatic creativity, even in the face of a tried-and-true technique and a pressing deadline. Successful fundraising always starts with the donor.

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