The British charity To Hatch sparked controversy in July by announcing a lottery for fertility treatments: for a ticket of twenty pounds (about $33.00), ticket-holders could win one round of fertility treatments, including an IVF cycle or a surrogate pregnancy. Winners could claim the prize for themselves or give it to someone else. A quarter of the lottery proceeds would fund the activities of To Hatch, which offers information about infertility treatments.
The uproar was immediate on both sides of the Atlantic. The British Fertilisation and Embryology Authority condemned the lottery as something that “trivialises what is for many people a central part of their lives.” To Hatch’s founder and chair Camile Strachan defended the lottery by stating that the lottery, “can ease the burden on the [National Health Service] and reduce the stress slightly on some of those who are struggling.”
Following this outcry, the lottery was suspended. To Hatch has announced that it intends to launch the lottery at a later date.
This story has many provocative aspects to it, of which the most conspicuous are the ethical questions about whether fertility treatment is an appropriate prize for a lottery. But beyond these important issues, there is an issue of interest to all charities and non-profits: the role of imagination in fundraising.
To Hatch boasts that its lottery is an imaginative, “ground breaking global premier”—and it certainly is a first! But it’s a gimmick rather than genuinely imaginative in the way truly successful fundraising is imaginative. To Hatch has shown a lack of imagination not only in failing to anticipate the outcry provoked by its lottery but by undertaking a lottery as a fundraiser in the first place.
Why is imagination a key to successful fundraising, and why isn’t this lottery imaginative?
Successful fundraising doesn’t just bring money through the door—successful fundraising is just one aspect of building ongoing relationships between a non-profit and its constituency of supporters. Establishing those ongoing relationships requires imagination about how to identify potential supporters and imagination about how to invite them to offer support.
A lottery does nothing to foster relationships with supporters. Buying a lottery ticket is an anonymous, one-time event. To Hatch’s long-term success as a charity depends on ongoing relationships with its constituency of fertility patients—patients who will support the charity financially, provide information about what fertility patients need, and spread the word to others about the charity’s work.
There certainly is a large constituency of fertility patients: in the United States and Britain, about 1 percent of babies are conceived by IVF. Fertility patients, as well parents grateful to have conceived through assisted reproduction, can sympathize with those who are still hoping to conceive. Many of these may be ready to contribute to a charity that helps those trying to conceive through assisted reproduction.
It is possible to identity this community and tap into its support: the Cade Foundation in Maryland is an example of a U.S. nonprofit that has very successfully built a community of supporters among current and former fertility patients.
Lotteries work can work well as fundraisers—exactly because they don’t require a lot of imagination and when there’s already an established connection between the non-profit and its constituency. For example, a lottery for a family dinner at a local pizzeria can be a terrific PTA fundraiser, because it is easy for parent volunteers to manage and the PTA already knows its constituency. But for a new charity like To Hatch, a lottery is insufficiently imaginative—however novel it may be—to accomplish its purpose of building a community of supporters.