The GiveWell Blog

Is fundraising stuck in the world of Mad Men?

Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car… It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay. — Don Draper on AMC’s Mad Men. (Video on YouTube.)

I sometimes wonder how Don Draper would react to someone telling him that in 2009, many consumers make their buying decisions based on a product’s quality rather than the feeling a product’s advertising instills in them, or the narrative in which the ad places them.

I picture Don saying, “User reviews? Restaurant ratings? Product testing? No way. That’s just not how consumers are hardwired to think.”

When I see Sasha Dichter and Nathaniel Whittemore saying the same thing, I wonder whether they’re right that the problem is donors as opposed to the information donors have access to.

Sure, it’s possible that donors are hardwired a certain way and may never care about the real impact their gift has. But it’s also possible that many donors would look past happiness and use information on impact – if only it were easier to find. That’s what we’re trying to bring about.


  • Joanne Fritz on October 17, 2009 at 9:24 am said:

    I like your comparison of the current Kiva controversy with Madmen and the advertising culture of the 50s. I’ve been struggling with this whole concept of deceiving donors because they seem to want to be deceived. And I’m very uncomfortable with it. It is true that we love personal stories and prefer to help a particular person as opposed to helping a bunch of people we don’t know or investing in an organization with the hope that we are helping. But we’ve forgotten that there is a universal human reaction to deceit. And that is immediate shock and recoil followed by persistent mistrust of the institution or person who deceived us. Now we all participate in mutual deceit frequently. We go to the theater knowing that we are going to be deceived and we willingly participate. That is, for us English majors, “the willing suspension of disbelief.” But when we are deceived without our permission, that results in recoil. That recoil is even worse when we are deceived by people or institutions that we thought we could trust. We are more dismayed when we find out that a congressman or a minister has had an exta marital affair than when we find out that a movie star has. The problem with deceit is that it is eventually outed. That’s why organizations and businesses are advised to simply never do it. Because the consequences when found out are much worse than any benefits initially gained. Not much is required to set up a willing suspicion of disbelief. Heifer International, as pointed out, has a disclaimer. I know that I’m not really buying a camel or a cow, but I still love browsing the catalog and picking out a “gift.” Kiva did not have such a disclaimer until it was “outed.” Now it does. That’s good and with any luck, all will be forgiven.

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