Pop Art Oops

“Sign the Enclosed Placenta”: The Weird Power of Errors in Fundraising


Don’t you hate making errors? They make you look and feel stupid.

But errors are funny things. It’s impossible to predict what damage they’ll do. Surprisingly often, they hurt your pride a lot more than they hurt anything else.

We here at Moceanic recently made an error, and we still feel a little sick about it. If you’re signed up for our emails, you might have noticed our error.

Boy did we feel like schmucks.

The outcome? We investigate. We work out the problem. We do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again (much harder when our email provider is responsible for the error). We apologize.

Some of you may have been annoyed by it.

But our unsubscribe rate stayed at the low level it’s usually at. And some people take the time to write to us to tell us there’s a problem. Thank you!

With mistakes like this, we always send an apology. That apology email often results in almost as many clicks or responses than the first, and sometimes even more!

Twice the result!

Which is often how it goes when you make errors. Especially when you apologize.

Since I know you like to gloat about other people’s errors (well, I like to gloat, so I think you might also) … here are some examples of painful errors I’ve been part of through the years:

  • Two embarrassing typos: We meant to say, “Sign and return the enclosed placemat.” What we got was, “Sign and return the enclosed placenta.” Second: a “Fill the Pantry” campaign somehow became “Fill the Panty” (I’ve heard from quite a few people who have suffered this exact error!)

Result: No discernable difference in response from normal. A couple of donors sent back the errors (with their donation) pointing out the typos.

  • The unreadable newsletter: We produced a multi-page newsletter, and the printer failed to trim the paper correctly before mailing it. The tops of some of the pages were connected so the only way to read the inner pages was to tear them apart.

Result: The newsletter performed quite a bit better than projections.

  • Mixed up letter: To lower costs, we produced two direct mail pieces for two different clients using the same specifications. The printer got confused so that Client A’s letter had Client B’s page 2. And vice versa. Meaning everyone got letters that dramatically changed topic mid-sentence.

Result: The initial appeal for both clients performed as we’d originally projected. And a handful of donors called or wrote to complain about the error. Response to the apology letter was strong, better than the initial appeal. Meaning we more than doubled revenue to the project because of the error. (It was the printer’s fault so the apology letter was at no cost to us.)

So errors don’t necessarily kill you.

But I don’t want to give the impression that you can be cavalier and sloppy and just let the errors happen.

There’s a class of error that pretty much does kill you. That’s when something happens that makes it difficult or confusing for donors to respond. Like inserting the wrong return envelope. Or a dead link to the landing page. Or an incorrect phone number.

Those errors will get you, big time.


  • Not all errors are the end of the world.
  • Some, though, kind of are.
  • It’s worthwhile to apologize for errors.
  • Some errors are hilarious, even though they’re upsetting.

By the way, the team at Moceanic didn’t make this mistake on purpose to get more responses!

Care to share errors you’ve made or seen and the outcomes? Please comment below!

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7 Comments. Leave new

  • Elizabeth Berman
    April 25, 2017 1:54 pm

    I work for an organization that acts in the public interest, calls for public consultations, and engages in public education. Experience has taught us to do regular audits of our website to make sure we don’t accidentally type pubic!

    • Ha! My wife, a proofreader, long ago removed the word “pubic” from her spellcheck dictionary. 99% of the time that word appears it’s a typo for public, not actually used on purpose. I mean, what exactly would “pubic policy” be? (Please don’t answer that!)

  • Ha! How timely. We just sent out an appeal for our Community Grant Fund. I had about six different variations of one letter, depending on donor type, etc. We’re a very small org, so only a total of 500 letters went out. 100 of those went to recently added prospects. I just discovered yesterday that the very first sentence of the letter reads, “Multiple your giving…” instead of, “Multiply your giving…”. Doh!! So embarrassing to overlook something so obvious. Thanks for sharing a few of your mistakes.

  • My late father, David Martin, taught us all very early that it’s not how you get into trouble (or a different word starting with ‘s’) it’s how you get out of it.
    You admit your mistake, apologise, fix it and move on.
    It stood him in good stead as one day, on live national television here in Sydney, he was talking about visiting foreign warships and instead of saying,
    “it’s not inevitable that…” he said,
    “it’s inevitable that they are carrying nuclear weapons”
    The subsequent furore died down very quickly when he simply said, “ I made a mistake”.

  • Tom Teale-Sinclair
    April 29, 2017 11:56 am

    Hi Jeff!
    Enjoyed your email. I’ve found similar with smaller scale errors involving just a few people. Picking up the phone and apologising can be a great conversation starter.

  • Love what Anna had to say about her Dad’s advice. I’ve definitely had the experience of winning over people through responding to complaints. Often, these folks become among the most loyal of supporters. This makes me think of the old adage “Crisis = Opportunity.” Error = Opportunity as well. 🙂

  • Ha ha this reminded me of a colleague who worked in the marketing team in a very posh fee-charging school. She wrote to the parents of two new students to tell them to bring outdoor kit for an activity – “please make sure the children bring clean willies with them.” She meant wellies…


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