Friday, October 28, 2011

Heartless: Why does Guilt + Free Gift = Charitable Donation?

It is the holiday season again folks.  The stores are littered with glittery ornaments, fake snow, and cinnamon scented candles … and it’s not even Halloween yet!  Well, before you despair go and open your mailbox.  There may be something special waiting just for you! 

Have you received one of these yet? 

If not, feel lucky you did not make the nice list at the Heart & Stroke Foundation.  If you did you would have been treated to a “special 2011 holiday package.” (D. Sculthorpe, personal communication, October 2011)

This package includes:

  • Seven sets of two greeting cards (14 in total), with coordinating envelopes
  • Two sheets of holiday stickers and gift tags
  • One gift bag
  • One holiday memo pad
  • One Heart & Stroke Foundation crested pen

How do I know what’s inside?  Unfortunately, my parents are on the nice list.  The funny thing is (insert sinister music clip here) they have not given a donation to the Heart & Stroke Foundation in over five years.

So how did they make it on to the nice list this year?  Apparently, it is not that difficult, especially since they had given donations in the past.  They may still be part of an internal or house list at the Heart & Stroke Foundation. 

Another possibility is that the Heart & Stroke Foundation used a list broker to provide them with “a list of potential prospects.” (Tuckwell, 2011) based on the profile they submitted to the broker.   

To me, the term list broker has an underworld tinge to it.  I imagine it belonging in a bad film noir scene where the good man is forced to bend to the will of the evil list broker, in order to save the femme fatale.

I digress. 

The Heart & Stroke Foundation is obviously not an evil, underworld organization; however, the use of this tactic to raise funds for charity is questionable. 

Why do they believe that this holiday package, along with a letter spewing the same promises as last year, will convince my parents to give a donation?  How much did the package cost to produce and where did the money come from? 

Perhaps, the Heart and Stroke Foundation did not intend for people to ask these questions.  Maybe they thought it was a positive campaign based on an emotional appeal and the idea of reciprocity.  Then again, the letter is seeded, not so subtly, with one of the greatest tactics for eliciting action – guilt.  

I think I will stick with my original equation to explain this fundraising campaign: Guilt + Free Gift = Charitable Donation.


Tuckwell, K. (2011). Integrated Marketing Communications: Strategic Planning Perspectives (3rd ed.).Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada Inc.

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