The other night I was sitting with a friend who is one of the more politically aware people I know as regards international politics, and he started talking to me about a letter he had received from a well-known human rights organization of which he is a long time member. He was flummoxed by its tone and…yes, offended. Here is how the letter started.


Dear Friend,

I must admit I am a bit concerned. Over the past few months (unnamed foolish NGO) has sent three membership renewal notices to you at the address listed above. Did you receive these previous notices?

As I write this we have not yet received a response from you. Maybe you have just replied to one of our previous notices and our letters have simply crossed in the mail?


Let me count the ways….

  1. A long time member should never be addressed as “Dear Friend” for cripe’s sake! This organization is relatively big and well-funded, in large part by its membership. In the 21st century it takes a mere moment of your time to personalize letters even if you are sending them out en masse. This guy respects you enough to pass along part of his modest treasure. Respect him enough to address him by name! The weird thing is that later in the letter they exhibit that they know enough about “friend” to refer to his previous contribution level. That, apparently, is important enough to reference…but not his name?
  2. This letter has clearly been lifted from your local collection service – perhaps it has to do with a lapsed subscription or your late mortgage payment? Do you believe for a moment that this letter writer is really “concerned” about the donor or even the relationship between the NGO and the donor? Why would one borrow dunning letter language to use on a longtime supporter? I don’t get it.
  3. The description of the human rights violations addressed by this organization is relegated to the very bottom of the page and the letter is completely devoid of any description of how the organization has been involved in redressing them.

Here is the reaction that the letter got. My friend told me he indeed went rummaging through his papers to find out whether the check that he had already sent for his membership renewal had been cashed. Because if it hadn’t he would have cancelled that check along with the longstanding membership.


I nominate this group for the bad form on form letters award of the year and will, under separate cover, let them know that they got a pass here in terms of naming them to all of you – just because I also think that they are a worthy and necessary organization.


On the other hand one of my more favorite fundraising efforts of the year was Wikipedia’s banner ad which reinforced the naturally reciprocal relationship between the organization and its users. I did a small write-up of it yesterday.