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Kruzhkov A. Pitfalls of Fundraising in Russia
I was reading David Lodge’s Therapy the other day. The hero often received letters from Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) asking for a donation. And this, of course, couldn’t escape my professional interest. Being typically British, the hero gives a donation almost every time he gets a fundraising mail pack. I don’t know how frequently the average Brit gives to charity but I wonder how different it is for my compatriots.
We’ve been working for UNICEF Russia for three years now, raising money for homeless children. We’ve mailed out a series of test mailings to various lists using various messages. Though the results are getting better every time, we are concerned with the public reaction.
We get hundreds of negative calls on the hotline. They range from relatively mild “How dare you ask me for money when I hardly survive on my pension?” to downright abusive outbursts and threats to file a suit.
Apart from the needy people, there are calls from quite well-off and even renowned people of socially high-standing professions—lawyers, journalists, therapists—who, one could expect, wouldn’t mind paying an equivalent of $20 to a charity. Instead, these people call on the hotline and raise hell. They usually start with criticising the package, its wording and tone – the tag-line “Do you really need 500 roubles more than a homeless child?” makes them furious – and they inevitably end up trying to investigate where their names were taken from. One of them wanted to come to our office to see how we generated the list and make sure that his name was picked up at random. Some insist on coming to the UNICEF Moscow office to ask a few questions.
Anyway, it is fortunate we have lots of positive examples too. Some of the donors are so sympathetic they even provide their bank details to withdraw their monthly donations. So, UNICEF has good reason to go on with their fundraising activities.
But what are the future prospects for fundraising in Russia? No matter how badly one wants it, one can’t sue an NGO for the tone of voice (I hope). So the only visible problem in the future is privacy. So far, we have relied on the only law dedicated to personal data, which is so vague it can’t be used to convict or acquit any mailer. The new law on personal data, which is being discussed these days in the Russian Parliament, makes the Russian Association of Direct Marketing and its members wince.
One of its implications is that mailers will need to get a written permission from a person to mail him/her anything. In a society where direct marketing industry is living through its infancy and PO Boxes are swamped with spam (some of it personalised) this may lead to a considerable reduction in DM activity.
But Russian direct marketers are tough. They will keep thinking of ways to create effective campaigns as long as UNICEF and other clients keep asking for it.