Free-Not-Free

One of my pet peeves is the marketing tactic I call ‘free-not-free.’

For example, a nonprofit consulting firm or software company might offer a ‘free’ white paper with research and advice on fundraising, social media, web design, or a dozen other subjects. All you have to do is enter your contact information in the little form.

What you expect is cutting edge research and professional advice on a real problem. And maybe a welcome email and the occasional update from that company. At most, a weekly newsletter.

What you actually get is a nice infographic or booklet of information you could have found on Google. And a sales call from that company. And daily emails advertising products and workshops and webinars and conferences.

That’s free-not-free. You’re not paying money. You’re paying time and annoyance.

And look, I get why companies do it: it’s an easy way to build a customer list. The company puts some light research out there; 10,000 people download the paper and put their info in the form; and if just 1% of them become customers, that’s 100 new customers at $10 a month. Over a year, that’s $12,000 in new revenue over the course of a year. And that’s if the company only does it once.

But it’s also a lousy thing to do. So, if you’re tempted to do something that’s free-not-free, step away from that ledge. Instead of saying that the white paper or infographic or booklet is free, tell us that we’re going to get a sales call and how often we can expect emails.

After all, isn’t that the kind of treatment you would like to receive?

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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