In this series on Transporting Your Donor To The Scene we have been talking about need, how to identify it, how to identify the cause of it and how to document what will happen if the need is not met.
Throughout this series I have alluded to the fact that talking about the need is often very difficult.  But why is it difficult?  Why do we have trouble talking about the need?  I think there are four basic reasons we have difficulty in this area:

  1. We intellectually do not know the facts surrounding the need.  We talked about this before and prescribed a solution, namely, getting the facts from your program person, experts in the field and on the internet.  Becoming conversant with the facts of the need – this is an exercise of the mind.
  2. It is emotionally difficult to be close to the need.  I can certainly relate to this one.  I have gone through so much personal pain in my life, some caused by others, some self-inflicted, that when I get close to the pain and hurt of others it causes an emotional and physical reaction in me.  And it is not comfortable.  So my tendency is to avoid it.
  3. We allow the “PC police” to govern our behavior in this area.  The politically correct police squad is very active when it comes to talking about need.  These are the folks that say things like, “Let’s not make the people we serve look like victims,” or “Let’s not set up the person as someone to be pitied.” These people spend more time protecting those they serve than actually serving them.  Now, there is some truth to what they say and a line can be crossed that shouldn’t be.  But, I think WE need to manage the PC police, and not allow them to manage us.
  4. We really don’t think a difference can be made.  After all, the need is so great and there are just  a few of us helping.  How will it really work?  I understand.  At times it does seem impossible.

I think these are the four core reasons we have difficulty talking about the need.
Let’s look at some possible solutions for each of these.
You Don’t Know The Facts About The Need
The primary way to acquire the facts is by talking to others.  We have suggested that program people, experts in the field and the internet are good sources.  The other thing I want to mention here is this: YOU need to be curious about the need.  You need to want to know more.  If you don’t want to know more, you should examine why you don’t.  Please do this as it is a critical element of your success.
It Is Emotionally Difficult To Be Close To The Need
I think an important point on this one is your own personal journey, i.e., coming to grips with your own pain and hurt.
Don’t get wound up on this, please.  Just hang in there with me.  No, I am not a psychologist, nor do I claim any expertise in this area.  But I do know that those who have suffered much carry a lot.  And I have met many people who have broken free from their pain and can now serve others with freedom and joy.  And I have met many others who are bound up and tight and spend a great amount of effort avoiding being close to the troubles and hurts of others.
What can be done?  Well, here are some suggestions:

  1. By yourself and/or with a trusted friend, examine why this is difficult for you.  I have discovered that just being curious about my own reactions when I get close to a person, animal or even an area of the environment that is hurting, can help me to process it.  So, open up on the subject.  I have had professional help on this subject and it has been very good for me.
  2. Practice being close to the hurt and pain of others as it will help you become familiar with your own feelings and reactions.  I consistently have reactions to homeless and poor people because I am so blessed.  Guilt plays a huge role in this reaction.  So I must constantly put myself into situations that help me deal with my reality in a healthy way.  Exposing yourself frequently to these kinds of situations will really help you on your journey.
  3. Remember your calling.  Whether you are a person of faith or not, the fact is that you are drawn to do this work – you are drawn to help the poor, help the suffering, help the person struck by a merciless disease, help those who suffer an injustice, deal with the mistreatment of animals or our environment – you are drawn to this.  You are supposed to be here.  You are supposed to be here because you can help them.  You are supposed to be here because you can help YOURSELF through the process.  Remember this.  This is not only about those you serve.  It is very much about your journey, your healing, your restoration.  This is important.

The PC Police Are Present In My Head And In The Office
Our colleague and blog friend James Schaffer wrote me several months ago about this subject.  He said:
“How do you insert the donor into the agony of the beneficiary living 24/7 off and in the town garbage dump? If you are limited to text and image and face-to-face, you risk being accused of deploying poverty porn to elicit donations.
That is the reason why so many of the international charities now show opportunity (smiling face) vs. reality (need). They aren’t hiding; they’re simply showing good manners and protecting the dignity of the poor.
Personally, as someone who spent many years working for international relief organizations, what I find at least morally ambiguous (but most of the time simply obnoxious) are the elites among us using the experience of witnessing the agonies of others to write the books and to command $50k keynote addresses. Several one-hit-wonder charity celebs (made famous by a generous NYT op-ed or two) come to mind — the ones who consistently headline the big conferences. Life is complicated.”
I had to think about what James wrote for several days, but then responded with this:
“I can feel your anger at the “poverty porn” mongers who use the poor and their suffering to promote their agenda. I agree with you and would call that behavior morally wrong AND obnoxious. But I won’t let their behavior govern me. Neither should you. There will always be those among us who use others for their self-interest.
While this topic is very complex, and I don’t have the space to treat it fully here, the reality is that presenting opportunity (smiling faces) does not convey need like showing reality does. It just doesn’t. We are wired, as humans, to respond to need. It’s logical and it’s right. Like you, I worked for many years in the international relief and development sector. So I know about this topic. I also was born and raised in South America among the poor.  I have experienced it first hand myself.
In all the years of dealing with the subject of showing need, I have discerned that I can “transport the donor into the suffering” and protect the dignity of the person as well. It is simply about asking the person if I can tell their story and show others the details of their situation.
The “poverty porn” folks do not do that. They just fly in, grab the pics, videos and stories and fly out. The friends of poor sit among them, relate to them, explain and ask permission. Big difference. If you just fly in and grab the stories without concern for the people, you are bad mannered. If you explain and ask permission, you show honor and respect. So, just showing/telling the need is not, in my opinion, the issue here. It is HOW you go about doing it and, more deeply, the state of your heart (motivations).
I would also say that there are a lot of politically correct people who have never been with the poor and suffering – really been with them – who enjoy standing behind their bully pulpit to blather on about how to dress up need. I find these people as obnoxious as the poverty porn folks. They are arrogant, exclusive and ignorant. And they are afraid of their own feelings and emotions. And many of them do the conference circuit and writing thing to promote this philosophy. Crazy.
Sadly, some of these people sit in good organizations who are dedicated to helping the poor. (Don’t know how they got there!) When you really look into who these people are, they really do not care for the poor.  It is really more about themselves and their need to self-express through technical jargon and “poor talk” than it is about really caring. I have sat with some social service and relief and development program designers who have no heart for the poor at all. It is disgusting. I would also say that I have sat with a lot of very wealthy and successful people who really care about the poor. So this is all not as much about one’s position or place in life as it is about the state of one’s heart and core motivations.”
Yes, this is a complex subject but I think you need to deal with the PC police in your head and in your office by realizing that it is HOW you represent need and HOW you respect the poor and the hurting.  It is not about actually doing it.
I Really Don’t Think A Difference Can Be Made
I said earlier that if you really believe this, maybe it’s time to find another job.  OR, it could be that you have forgotten about the power of one.  I’ve always liked the statements by Edmund Burke:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

The fact is that every little bit helps.  And little by little we will change the world – all us individually doing our part.  I take great joy with this fact. You should too.
Jeff and I believe that if we, individually and collectively, can get more comfortable with talking about need, then we can take great steps forward in transporting the donor into the scene.  This is as important for you as it is for the donor and the person we are trying to help.
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