I Am The Comms Devil

Published by Margaux Smith on

This week, I’m in the midst of my very first International Fundraising Conference in Holland. 2011 has been a whirlwind of a year and being here feels like a dream, rubbing shoulders with the best of the best.

I’m volunteering as a session leader, which means I was also able to attend the Masterclass sessions on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. Luckily, I was assigned to my first choice session: The Joy Of Storytelling with Sean Triner. As a brand new copywriter, I felt I could use all the writing advice I could get.

Sean left us with a very a long list of fantastic takeaways (I should hope so. It was six hours long!), but today, I’ve chosen to focus on my personal ah-ha! moment.

I learned the hard lesson that I am the comms devil. What on earth am I talking about? I didn’t quite know at first either…

As a recent graduate of Toronto’s Humber College post-graduate program in fundraising, I’m still feeling brand new to this world. I’ve spent a year having ‘best practices’ drilled into my brain, but now that I’ve entered the real world of course, it’s not all so black and white.

I have heard over and over that I, at age 27, am NOT the target audience for donor communications. As much as I understand that in principle, and I do, I find it very difficult to separate my own opinion from the fundraising material that I’m drawn towards. I am passionate about these issues too and I donate what I can, when I can. I feel like my opinion should matter.

Sean Triner helped me realize that I’m not always right. In fact, I’m probably almost always wrong when it comes to what donors will give to. I’ll admit it; I’m all about communications through and through. I’m employed as a copywriter and spend much of my free time with digital communications like social media and blogging. I react best to stories told visually and emotionally. And I cry at the drop of a hat. I’ve always felt that if you can’t even move me, your case is rubbish.

But what I love doesn’t raise money.

When Sean first brought out the term ‘comms devil’ on Tuesday, everyone in the Masterclass had a laugh. He was referring to the love of most charity communication teams for branding and design. They don’t understand the fundamentals of fundraising. What good is an award winning DRTV ad if it doesn’t bring in donations?

To drive his point home, Sean played a few DRTV ads from a website called Stupid Non-Profit Ads. He led with the explanation that most of the ads he was about to show were terrible. But he would also show a few good ones.

For the next half hour, I proceeded to watch each ad, tear up, decide that this must be the ‘good one’, and then listen to the entire rest of the room and Sean rip each ad apart. Here is the one that got me particularly emotional.


I’m sitting there with tears streaming down my face and my inner monologue is screaming ‘Look at what my checkmarks are doing! Look what I can create if I donate! This is IT!’ It appealing to all my senses; great music, beautiful artistic visuals, my love of animals and nature…I’m sold.

It ends, Sean looks at us and says… ‘This is an example of pure trash’.


And then I finally got it. I am the comms devil. I love award-winning drivel. I guess you can hear something a million times but you need to be shown in order for it to really sink in. This was my ah-ha! moment.

So I asked Sean, how do I pull my opinion out of the equation? How do I channel the opinion of an 80-year-old Grandmother when I’m building a campaign? He suggested reading all the reasoning behind why these ads are trash at Stupid Non-Profit Ads. I’ll be doing so as soon as I’m home from this conference. I also think experience is going to be a huge factor. The more I see these things tested with my own eyes, the more I’ll believe that my exquisite taste is completely irrelevant. But at least now, I do feel like I’m starting to get it.

Thanks Sean and thanks IFC! Off to my next session…

This blog post is the second in a series of 6 blog posts covering the IFC 2011:

Monday 17 October: Reinier Spruit
Thursday 20 October: Margaux Smith
Monday 24 October: Juan Hendrawan
Thursday 27 October: Sonya Swiridjuk
Monday 31 October: Ellen Janssens
Thursday 3 November: Julie Verhaar

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.


Ann · October 20, 2011 at 16:50

I/We are bombarded with ads in print and video for so many great and worthwhile things – how do you choose where to send your money-what could be your last 10 dollars that month? Often times the action step becomes to do nothing and sit back and wish you could do more! Enjoyed this- thanks.
Off to view the link but wanted to make sure I just left a little something here before being ‘side tracked’ by something else—It’s so easy on this machine to just keep following links and not do anything, :)

Fabiola · October 20, 2011 at 17:21

Thanks a lot Margaux!
I hope to meet you next year at the IFC.
Fascinating blog, I am also new to fundraising and resonate with what you share here.
It left me wonder then which are good examples of good ads. Do you have some to share? Where can I find some?
Enjoy the sessions!

Frankie · October 20, 2011 at 22:00

Ahhh Margaux, how I miss your enthusiasm and excitement whenever you talk about fundraising.
I definitely see myself as a comms devil, especially after all those amazing videos and ads they keep showing us in class! Although I could not attend IFC I hoped to learn a great deal from your blog, which I did! Thank you so much for sharing that amazing website and your experiences so that we can see all forms of fundraising in a global perspective.
Keep up the great work and looking forward to your next entry.


Sean Triner · November 10, 2011 at 11:01

Although the WWF ad appears to be a fundraiser, being available on YouTube etc I have just been told by someone at WWF that it was actually just an internal thing.
This doesn’t undermine Margaux’s point – that beautiful, clever stuff can dupe you into thinking it is great fundraising but in effect is unlikely to be useful as a fundraiser, but I am sure it went down well at the AGM.

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