Donated to take a campaign over its goal. Goal changed afterwards. wtf?
October 19, 2021 6:30 PM   Subscribe

A friend I respect is running a campaign to raise money for civic engagement and transparency in political process. I got the "Campaign ends today, and we're at 97%" email. I could just afford the amount they needed to meet their goal. So I donated, and saw the page reload with "100% funded". I reloaded a few minutes later, and saw that the goal was now $500 higher and back at 98.5%. Am I right to feel disappointed that I was lied to, or am I just another rube whole fell for an fundraising "engagement" trick?

There's nothing in the campaign about "stretch goals": there's just one goal, but they're not transparent about it moving. The respect I have — or perhaps had — for my friend is rapidly eroding.
posted by scruss to Law & Government (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You get to be double-disappointed because it’s a campaign for transparency. But also it sounds like a pretty normal fundraising trick, I would try not to hold it against them.
posted by momus_window at 6:45 PM on October 19 [14 favorites]

Is your friend running the campaign on an external fundraising website, or did they create the website on their own? Depending on the website, that may be the default behavior (and even in some cases, may not be able to be turned off) and your friend may not even be aware of it.

A lot of these fundraising websites make their money off taking a small cut of the donations, so it's in their interest to keep on raising the goal.
posted by rogerroger at 6:55 PM on October 19 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's on an external website. The site (one I hadn't used before, should've been a flag) adds a large "suggested donation" to them to your donation amount, and you have to catch it and edit it before hitting submit.

If this is a normal fundraising trick, I'm disgusted by it.
posted by scruss at 7:03 PM on October 19 [7 favorites]

Fundraising "goals" are always set to be just a bit above the amount received so far. It's a motivating technique to get people to donate. If the goal is too far away, people won't donate because they think their donation doesn't help anything (drop in a giant empty glass effect). If the goal is already met, people won't donate because they think their donation is not needed by the organization and they'd just be "wasting" their donation (overflowing glass of water effect).
posted by saeculorum at 7:14 PM on October 19 [9 favorites]

It’s sort of a sneaky trick, taking advantage of some basic psychology, but think of it this way: you wanted to donate, you could afford it, and they can always use more money (presumably). As saeculorum said, if they just set a single goal and then left it at “100% funded” they’d basically be discouraging further donations, and there’s not a good reason to do that other than pedantic consistency.
posted by Ryon at 8:04 PM on October 19 [8 favorites]

You were lied to. You should feel disappointed, but not feel bad that you were tricked by folks who dedicate a lot of time and money and expertise into developing dark patterns and using them to trick folks.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 8:20 PM on October 19 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: The campaign posted that it was half way to its goal along with a number earlier in the month, and an update from several hours ago said "goal is reached". That update's gone, and the goal has increased three times since then.

you wanted to donate

I was tricked into thinking they hadn't met their goal. I'm on mrgoldenbrown's "tricked by dark patterns" team. I've reported the campaign and and considering charging back on my credit card.
posted by scruss at 8:27 PM on October 19 [7 favorites]

What are you looking for here? I do digital fundraising as a profession and am glad to give you insight into why they might have done this and to advise you on how to proceed in a reasonable and ethical manner if that’s what you want, but it sort of just seems like you want to be told you’re right to be angry.
posted by lunasol at 9:13 PM on October 19 [32 favorites]

I'm confused why you gave to this campaign. You *do* want them to use your money for good, right? I can't imagine donating money and then demanding a charge-back. Let them fundraise how is most effective for them. It's not like they are taking your money to Vegas.
posted by Toddles at 9:24 PM on October 19 [27 favorites]

This is cheap trick, you were fooled, and while you should not feel guilty IMHO you should hold it against them. It is quite possibly a sign that a disproportionate amount of the money is going to people who work on fundraising (and fundraise for all types) rather than towards political transparency.

I donate decent amounts so I am on every fargin' list there is, and I get countless e-mails from people who need to raise $$$ "before the midnight deadline" or offer "exclusive" thank you gifts or give you "membership" in some "exclusive" clubs. Many people have written on this, often quite wittily.

Political candidates can be especially bad; you'd think they more than others might be using the opportunity to spread a message, but it's disconnected from anything like that and instead uses the same "time is running out" antics you'd see on a commercial for Ginzu knives. On a whim I grabbed the first such e-mail in my inbox which turns out to be from a candidate for the state legislature in Michigan (where I do not live) and has e-mailed me 10 times; four of them involve some made up deadline and only one obliquely mentions something related to policy.
posted by mark k at 9:31 PM on October 19 [5 favorites]

Who would you report the campaign to?

I think the fundraising tactic is BS, but it's typical BS.
posted by NotLost at 9:56 PM on October 19 [1 favorite]

Am I right to feel disappointed that I was lied to


am I just another rube who fell for an fundraising "engagement" trick

posted by flabdablet at 9:57 PM on October 19 [5 favorites]

Look at it this way: if you gave money and the money they raised was not enough to sustain the organization, your money would probably go to waste. So every further dollar they raise beyond the money you gave to make them reach their goal actually increases the reach and power of your donation.

However, it would leave a bad taste in my mouth too.
posted by jamjam at 10:38 PM on October 19

The whole "goal" thing is a gimmick. Why did thy need *exactly* that much money? It's totally arbitrary -- except it's not. It's just attainable enough to be exciting/motivating. Someone estimated how many donors they expected and how much they would give, multiplied the two, and added or subtracted 5%, and ... that's the goal.

Hey, this isn't always true: sometimes there's a specific plan with a specific budget, sometimes there's a grant that requires an org to raise another $X from individual donors.

I mean, it's all marketing, mostly.
posted by amtho at 10:39 PM on October 19 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't get too angry about it. You were enthusiastic about supporting them, and helped them reach a goal. Let it go right there. They can set new, higher goals if they want - it won't lessen the impact of your gift.
posted by niicholas at 10:49 PM on October 19 [12 favorites]

The same thing happened to me about a month ago, and I had a similar reaction. I'd donated, and then donated again so that a goal would be reached, and then the goal changed. Looking back, I can't really maintain my righteous indignation. It was for a terrific cause, and I'm glad I supported it (twice, lol).

Once a runner sets a personal best, do they stop trying to improve? I know being shown the "almost there" percentages feels manipulative, but if you were raising money for a cause (and not something that had a definite cost associated it with it, like $XXXX.xx for mobility devices), would you just fold up your tent 8 days into a 10-day campaign, or would you see if you could raise even more?

Ask yourself whether it's a cause you believe in, and try to let the resentment go. It won't serve you well. Perhaps, in the future, you'll separate what you want to give from the "soooo close!" emails.... I know I will!
posted by kate4914 at 3:30 AM on October 20 [11 favorites]

I think it's partly a feeling that a good person/organization doesn't lie and manipulate. So when it turns out it does lie and manipulate, and for such a stupid reason and in such an obvious way, it feels like "I thought I gave my money to a good cause, but maybe it's not such a good cause?" There's also an issue of respect, trust, and the personal relationship that's formed when you donate to something.

And it is an outright lie; the "need X to meet our goal" language comes from a time before ever-changing goals (hell, before the internet) and I think at least 9 out of 10 people would take it literally. I'm decently internet-savvy and would have taken it literally too. I'm not sure teaching people that your fundraising goals are a meaningless lie is a great long-term strategy, and it's not like there isn't an established way to keep fundraising well after explicit intermediate goals, as kickstarter has demonstrated. Is there any research about how many current donors this stops from being future donors?
posted by trig at 3:53 AM on October 20 [18 favorites]

A long time ago I had a fund-raising job for a decent organization whose goals I mostly supported. Even there, we had to lie by omission and essentially manipulate people into donating and then donating more, and I had so much trouble doing it that I left.

In a weird way, I think the electronic trickery is a bit better since it's more consistent and predictable and doesn't involve an actual human fibbing to your face.

It feels to me like a knock-on pathology of our sick society. When I had my fund-raising job, the main lie was to let people think that their money was going toward Simple Charismatic Project when in fact it was going toward Boring Complicated Policy Project That We Did Not Use In Fund-Raising. Now, Boring Project was a good project and Simple Project would have been useless without it, but it was much harder to get money for Boring Project. But then we only needed to do Boring Project because of our shitty undemocratic society.

If we had a decent society, money wouldn't be so tight, there wouldn't be so many essential needs being funded basically by charity, people would be better educated and more socially engaged so it would be possible to get help with the Boring Projects...the pathologies of fundraising are reactive and while I can't raise money I usually try to offer them up, so to speak, when I give it.
posted by Frowner at 4:39 AM on October 20 [12 favorites]

I understand why you are angry, though the trick you describe predates the Internet. I'm aware of a local non-profit organization that broadcasts a live telethon every year (this is on local TV). Prior to the event, they publicly announce a fundraising goal, and they purposely low-ball the goal so that they're pretty confident they can exceed it (though no-one really knows this, outside of the organization). During the six-hour-long Telethon, they post updates on TV, but those updates are fudged. The staff purposely manipulate the numbers to make it look like they're going to miss the goal unless a whole lot more people donate. This has been going on for at least 20 years, and probably longer.

It's a slimy tactic, to be sure. But I'm not certain that this underhanded practice is reason enough not to donate to an otherwise-worthy charity.
posted by JD Sockinger at 6:40 AM on October 20 [3 favorites]

At best, you were misled. (At worst, someone might consider it fraud, but good luck with that.) This reminds me of jurisdictions that have made it illegal to claim a business is offering a product on sale when it's not lower than the usual price—even though the buyer is getting the product they thought they were for the price they expected, it's still borne out of deception and is worth discouraging.

It's OK to be annoyed or ask for your money back.* The ends don't have to justify the means.

* It's also OK to decide that you want to let it slide because it's a worthy cause.
posted by grouse at 7:14 AM on October 20

Long term you've got to figure out some system for these things so they don't drive you crazy.

E.g. set some dollar limit for unexpected "small" donations--like a random friend-of-a-friend with a pet project--and make a rule that you're OK with sending that small amount on the spur of the moment, no more than once per campaign/year/whatever you decide.

Anything bigger you save up in a file somewhere. Once a year you review that file and think about your budget and your priorities and write all those checks at once.

Or adapt as necessary to your situation (e.g. I care about local political campaigns but the "once-a-year-only" rule doesn't quite work for them as they don't last that long). As long as you've got some system that lets you stay focused on your priorities and tune out the noise.

Unfortunately some important organizations are super-aggressive fundraisers. It works. (Sometimes for sad reasons, e..g. old people that just flat-out forget they already donated and can't manage good record-keeping any more.)
posted by bfields at 8:09 AM on October 20 [2 favorites]

Every campaign has a "Stretch" goal and not every online platform gives you a good way to show that. I ran a kickstarter in 2011-2012 where we met our goal, and then some, and we raised the overage through running stretch goals. We called them that, so it was clear that we were pushing things above and beyond, and no one seemed to care.

I think they could have better labeled what was going on, but this sounds like a stretch goal to me and I wouldn't waste any time or energy being mad about it. People who are fundraising for nonprofits are probably more exhausted than nearly anyone you can imagine. Wasting ire on such people is not going to make your day better.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:22 AM on October 20 [2 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, I've been on the other end and definitely seen donations come in where the person wants to be the one to push things over and is happy and proud about that aspect of their gift, and I've always tried to respect that by being open and honest about any later changes in the stated goal. It's effectively the same concept as Kickstarter stretch goals, like "thank you so much everyone who has made it possible to do X... now, if you're just joining us or are still up for more, we'd also love to do Y!" where Y might even be an explanation of Boring Project (there's always a Boring Project), because I think it's important for donors to understand that sort of thing and not just think of "administrative overhead" as an unnecessary luxury expense that good/nice organizations should ideally trim down to near-zero. There's unfortunately no way to make a simple ticker reflect that other than letting it be "over-funded," which as others have said isn't as conducive to encouraging new donors, but at least the text then shows the full truth. It's entirely possible though for a good person and a worthy cause not to understand that they could be hurting someone by omitting that acknowledgement. As such, before you write off your friend and/or ask for a refund, you might consider sending an email that explains that you were really excited to help knock out the original goal, especially since it was just within your budget to do so, and that now it feels like that collective achievement got taken away and you feel tricked. Specifically because it's such a common technique, I think they should have a chance to know the impact of their actions, so that they might find a more respectful way of carrying out their fundraising.
posted by teremala at 8:34 AM on October 20 [7 favorites]

Maybe you could talk to your friend about how this made you feel? Reading between the lines, I'm wondering if part of your feeling was, "I can help Friend reach their goal for this worthy cause." This doesn't just feel like an organization misleading you. It feels more interpersonal because of the friendship dynamic.

So maybe being able to put out there how you felt after this and maybe hearing the rationale from your friend could help you process this and then see how you feel about a chargeback.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:56 AM on October 20 [5 favorites]

I, too, would be angry and disappointed if this happened to me. Those who are involved in fundraising and have replied in this thread defending what is claimed to be common practices - lying to and manipulating people - are doing themselves and their profession no favors.
posted by ElKevbo at 9:10 AM on October 20 [11 favorites]

Your friend is running this? Maybe ask them directly about what happened before going on the offensive with chargebacks and such. You are within your rights to ask them to refund your money if you feel strongly about this.
posted by Aleyn at 9:35 AM on October 20

Based on your description and your follow-up (adding a large "suggested donation" to the site), it seems like this is just GoFundMe (or something similar). I've donated to a bunch of random stuff that gets put up on there and I'm pretty sure the changing goal is just how the site operates. I don't think your friend's organization intentionally deceived you by not mentioning stretch goals, I'm guessing they just used the site because it's easy to do so and a lot of people use it, and it ended up that GoFundMe's defaults are set to do this sort of thing. If you're grossed out by GoFundMe's tactics, that would be something to bring up with your friend for sure - let them know you think they should use a different platform in the future.
posted by thebots at 10:59 AM on October 20 [2 favorites]

Of course it’s psychology, it’s like sale prices. It gives the donor/buyer the satisfaction while actually fulfilling the goal of the organization.

The real question is: do you trust this organization to use your donation for good? Then that’s all there is to it, I’d be glad that I pushed through one goal and allowed them to focus on the next. They didn’t swindle you, they truly need the money and without your donation they wouldn’t have met their fundraising goal for that amount of time. I wouldn’t try to find a nefarious motive at all.
posted by lydhre at 11:53 AM on October 20 [3 favorites]

I just stopped donating to things that have this kinda thing as their thing.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:53 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]

I feel like this tactic is unusually underhanded even by the somewhat fast-and-loose standards of political fundraising. It's one thing if they say, "We have a dollar-for-dollar match going on this hour", and fail to mention that the sponsor of the match might donate the money anyway. But to move the goal altogether is disgusting. I love the motivation of giving to Donors Choose projects when I can finish them, so I absolutely understand your excitement to be the one putting it over the top. I would ask for my money back. Organizations that pull this kind of thing are probably pulling other stuff because "it's a good cause".
posted by wnissen at 4:12 PM on October 20

I have the exact opposite reaction and don't understand why this would be considered a "trick." In the old Howard Dean campaign days, supporters would enthusiastically donate in order to fill up the "bat" (see here), knowing and even hoping that the goal would keep increasing in order to encourage more donations. I'd be dismayed if the goal of an entity I was supporting didn't continually go up, because as others have said, that would have the effect of discouraging further donations.

It's really rare that a charity, political campaign, Kickstarter, or any other fundraising vehicle truly would not want more money, so if one were to take a step that acts to cap donations, they'd better have an extremely good reason. Otherwise I'd be concerned that they aren't taking their mission seriously.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:35 PM on October 20 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: without your donation they wouldn’t have met their fundraising goal

They'd already met their fundraising goal. Roughly three hours before I donated, the platform (FundRazr) posted a "Goal Achieved" milestone to the campaign's timeline. This seems to have been taken down. Also, the campaign went from 99% of a $23k goal in its closing minutes to 114% of a $20k goal immediately after it ended. There were no updates about stretch goals.

I got a non-apology from my friend: I’m sorry that you feel lied to!!
posted by scruss at 8:57 PM on October 20 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you donated more money than you were really comfortable with and this is part of what is driving your unhappiness - as well as feeling that a friend has colluded in misleading you. You might still be irked with them if it was your $2 donation but probably not nearly as much. I think if you support the cause for which the money will be used, and you can actually afford the donation, then I would chalk this one up to experience. No one really gives to charity as an entirely one-sided act. In return you get some kind of good feeling if nothing else.

If you're not going to get the good feeling from over-donating, unless everything is exactly as you believe it to be (which is a completely reasonably view to have - I certainly have it too), then I recommend not over donating, doing more planned/regular giving if you can because that provides a more consistent - and so useful - income to charities, and only giving a very affordable/small amount to appeals like this.
posted by plonkee at 8:08 AM on October 21

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