You have by now, hopefully, gotten yourself into the need.
If you don’t know what I am talking about here, please read the two posts that precede this one.
You’re personally into the need. You are at the scene.  You are present with the pain, the hurt and the ambivalent feelings.  Now it’s time to turn to a mostly intellectual exercise – a process of the mind vs. the heart – where you identify the cause of the need.
This is not easy.
So, take some time to go through the following steps:

  1. Write down the need at the top of a piece of paper.
  2. Make a list of causes that come to mind.  So, for instance, if the need is hunger, your list of causes may include civil unrest, bad government, poor natural resources, lack of money, injustice, greed – or an even longer list.
  3. Google the cause.  You can come up with more ideas on causes by Googling the topic.  So in the example above you would Google “the causes of hunger”.
  4. Sit with your list.  Is it right?  Have you included everything? You might consult some other people and ask their opinion.  Ask a program person what they think.  Remember, the initial goal is to get a comprehensive list.
  5. Avoid technical jargon.  You hear me say this a lot because one of the things we do in the non-profit business is “jargonize” everything.  I think it’s a way we escape from being in the need.  Regardless, don’t go there. Your explanation of the cause of the need should be simple enough for a fifth grader to understand.  If you can’t make it that easy to understand, keep working at it.
  6. Choose the top 5 causes.  Now, look at your list and decide what you believe are the top five causes.  With this step I am trying to get you to focus the list on the major reasons so that you can be ready to talk about them.
  7. Share your top 5 and see if they ring true.  Go back to the program person and to your colleagues and share your conclusions. Do they agree?  If so, you are ready to move on.

Now you are ready to talk about this, but let me digress a bit here to explain where we are in the process of taking the donor to the scene and why this step is so important.
Often, in this journey of helping others or our planet, we can wax eloquent about the need and babble on about what we are doing, but we are truly ignorant of what the cause of the need is.
This is a problem internal to the MGO because every fundraiser should really have a grasp of the “why we are doing this work”.
This is not a problem externally until someone (often a donor) asks us the question, “Well, why do you think this happens?” or, “You know, my husband and I were talking about this the other night.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re gonna help, but we were wondering….why is it that good able bodied people don’t have jobs?”
Or any other kind of question.
And then, if you don’t know the answer or, at least, have an opinion, you will find yourself in an uncomfortable place.  And you will be tempted to wing it, which is never a good idea.
I will never forget when I was in college I was on the streets of New York City with a group of my friends talking to anyone who would listen about a cause that was important to us.  I had all the emotional points down: “This is the situation and this is what we need to do. And we need to do it now!”  Had it down to a science.
Then one bold hippy type person got in my face – uncomfortably close to my face – and said:  “So, what is the reason (the people you are trying to help) are in that situation?”
I couldn’t say!  It was so embarrassing.  And humiliating.  And it taught me an important lesson.  It is easy to get all fired up about some need.  It is much more difficult to spend the time to intellectually have a grasp of the causes of the need.
So, you need to identify and be familiar with causes of need so you can answer questions.
You also need to be familiar with the causes of the need you are addressing because it will increase your confidence in talking about the need.
If you don’t have a conviction about the cause of the need then your dialogue with a donor will be pretty superficial.  And you will find yourself shifting – bobbing and weaving – in the conversation.  And when you do that the donor will say to herself, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”  This is not a good situation.
So the old adage – “Information TELLS, emotion SELLS “ – applies here. You are, through this exercise, trying to gather information so you can tell yourself and the donor what they want to know or are wondering about so you can then be ready to move to the part of the transaction where you draw the connection between what they want to do with their resources and what your organization needs.
I know that doing all this mind work, mining causes, talking about causes, etc. can often be boring and tedious.  But it is important work that needs to precede an ask.  And it is important work you need to do yourself as a fundraiser to more fully understand the fundamental things your organization does, to know why you are doing those things and why those specific things will actually make a difference to the human condition and our planet.
Here is where I feel very strongly why we can’t just ride along on emotion and superficially “caring” statements.  Substance is needed and if you don’t have it, you really do need to go acquire it.  It’s not only part of being a true professional.  It is a fundamental part of being a caring person – you actually know why you are helping.
Read the whole series:

  1. Why it is important to take your donor into the need
  2. Zeroing in on the need
  3. Identifying and talking about the CAUSE of the need
  4. Documenting what will happen if the need is not met
  5. Why we have trouble talking about the need
  6. Next steps: Now that your donor is on the scene

Read about this topic in our white paper: Transporting Your Donor to the Scene