Rocking the boat makes waves.

If you talk with most client-service people, they’re adamant — it’s never good to cause your client any distress.  Never surprise them.  If there’s bad news, be sure you’re the first to tell them.  Never “rock the boat” by making them uncomfortable.  Be sure you “capture their voice” and “communicate their brand.”  Precisely.   Consistently.  Fanatically! 

And that’s all correct to a point.  I would never purposefully do something to cause distress for a client. 

But . . .

Creativity happens.  And sometimes the consequences are unpredictable. 

With over 30 years in nonprofit fundraising, a couple instances stand out where we caused our client significant distress — initially.  One occurred a couple years ago over an envelope teaser for a newsletter. 

We were raising money to find a permanent home for an orphanage in India.  The landlord for the rented facilities used by the orphanage was threatening eviction so he could rent to someone else.  We needed to raise over $50,000 so the children wouldn’t lose their home. 

So, what better teaser for the carrier envelope than “EVICTION NOTICE”?    

“Idiot,” you might say.  No wonder your client was distressed.  But the client had seen and approved the entire project, including the envelope copy.  And that was before the foreclosure fiasco of 2009-10, so the words didn’t have nearly the widespread emotional baggage that they carry today.  To insure clarity, immediately below the “EVICTION NOTICE” line was a modifying headline clearly stating that “Orphans will lose their home unless we respond immediately.” 

The “Notice” clearly didn’t apply to the recipient.  Yet the client received “a number” of phone calls and letters from donors asking to be taken off their mailing list.  Some had mistakenly thought the “EVICTION NOTICE” applied to them.  It caused “unnecessary grief and trauma,” we were being told.  “Even some major donors are demanding to be taken off our list.”  Frustration was high both on the client side and here at Masterworks.    

After a few days of soul searching and self-flagellation, the client discovered the “number” of “take me off your list, I’m furious” messages was fewer than 10.  And none of them was a current major donor. 

The really good news followed 30 days later.  That particular newsletter raised over twice as much money as their typical newsletter and generated response from twice as many donors.  So, while a few people hated the message, almost a thousand more people responded than typically would have.  They must have liked it if they decided to write a check.  My theory is, more people read it because of the startling envelope tease.  So of course you get a few folks looking for any excuse to avoid hearing about opportunities that might cost them something economically.   

After a week or so, the client settled down and we could laugh about the whole thing. 

We had that same experience with a letter to people who pledged regular support of missionaries from a relief organization.  Several of the missionaries were outspoken with their displeasure over our letter.  Again, “a number” of pledgers asked to be taken off the mailing list.  But, when the final counts were taken and the income was double what we expected and the real number of complaints was a single digit, peace and joy prevailed once again. 

So, the next time your boat seems to be rocking, remember, if it makes waves and stirs up emotion, it must be effective communication.  Let the results speak from themselves.

Satisfying relationships demand that clients and their agency communicate honestly in good times and bad.  When we’re happy and when we’re upset.  Masterworks chooses to work with only clients that we believe in — causes in which we feel called to invest our hearts, our lives and God’s resources.  We’re partners in ministry.  And, like a good marriage, we value transparency in our relationship.  Pat us on the back when we’re successful.  Sit us down and talk frankly when you feel we’re heading in the wrong direction.  As your partner in ministry, we’ll do the same.

Rob Zawoysky

Founding Creative Director