You heard your mother say it and most of the time it was true.
She would say, “If you don’t (insert desired behavior) then you will (insert promised consequence).”
And you either learned to believe it when she said it or, if it was just a veiled threat, you learned to ignore it.  This dynamic is true in most of life.  We seriously pay attention to avoiding consequences, real consequences.  And we quickly learn what threats are not real.
Your boss says, “George/Anna, we just cannot have you coming in late most every morning.  If this pattern continues I will be forced to let you go.”  But you keep coming in late and nothing happens.  And you quickly learn that the boss didn’t really mean it.  Or, if he did, he didn’t have the courage to follow through.
These experiences, which happen to us in every area of life – at home, at school, at work, in the marketplace – train us to be a bit skeptical about what people say will happen.  Why?  Because sometimes they make promises about what will happen and then they don’t follow through.
So you tend not to believe that something will actually happen.
For me, I don’t believe much about any promise anyone makes until I have personally tested it.  This has been a helpful characteristic of mine in that I hardly ever assume a “no” or “it can’t be done” is really true.  So I am good at overcoming obstacles and pushing through challenges.  But, it can be a really irritating trait when those around me, both personally and professionally, are good with their promises but I persist in my skepticism.  It is dishonoring and hurtful – something I am working on.
But here’s the point. Donors are becoming more and more skeptical.  Gone is the day when a major donor simply believes what she is told by the organization she is supporting.
So here is how all of this fits into the dynamic of taking the donor to the scene.
You have carefully and accurately described the need – and you have done so in human and emotional terms.  You have, very intelligently and articulately, identified the causes of the need.  There is now a very clear understanding about the need and the cause of the need.
Now you have to take the next step and document (or promise) what will happen if the need is not met.  This is very difficult for various reasons:

  1. You don’t know if something will or will not happen if the need is not met.  So, take the need you have identified and the cause(s) of that need.  Let’s say it’s a hungry child, a homeless mother, a man dying of cancer,  an environmental disaster or a horrible injustice that has been done resulting in the jailing of an innocent woman.  Whatever it is, what will happen if you (your organization) does nothing?  Perhaps you do not know.  Perhaps you have not thought about it.  Forget the reason for your not knowing.  The fact is, you really don’t know what will happen.  And that’s a problem – a problem that is not easy to solve.
  2. You don’t really believe anything will happen if the need is not met. If you’re honest you don’t think anything negative will happen if the need is not met.  Why?  Because if your organization doesn’t meet the need, some other organization or person will step in and take care of it.  Hmmm….  really?  Do you really believe this?  Think about it.  Be honest.  This is a touchy one because if you really do believe this, then why are you working there?  This is also a problem that is not easy to solve.
  3. You can’t bring yourself to really think about what will happen if the need is not met. I’ve been in this position.  I start to think about the need NOT being met and it crushes me mentally and emotionally.  So, I avoid it. It’s too painful.  It takes me down a defeatist, hopeless path – a path I don’t want to be on.  So I run away.  And I start to make up stories in my head that go along the lines of “What can one person really do?  What can one organization really do?  How are we ever going to beat this and make a difference?”  This kind of internal chatter, in my opinion, is really a cover for avoiding the hurt and pain of the need not met.  It is a rationale for inaction.  It is a reason to stop doing good.  And this is also a problem that is not easy to solve.
  4. It’s not politically correct to talk about such things.  The PC police, either in reality or in your head, have now shown up on the scene to properly direct things and make sure everything stays nice and tidy.  Talking this way, they say, is demeaning to the person in need.  “We must protect their dignity.  And why are you into all this need stuff?  It is so much more positive to talk about solutions and what has been done!”  And they blather on, having never themselves experienced an emotion in their lives, with all kinds of nonsense, clothing specks of truth, which clouds the absolute fact that people will suffer, people will die and the environment will be negatively affected if we do not take action.

So, to be perfectly clear about this – any of these reasons for either not knowing what will happen if the need is not met or not wanting to talk about what will happen if the need is not met – are reasonable and normal reasons for being stuck on this point.  So, don’t beat yourself up. Just relax with the fact that this is not easy – it is not easy to be partially responsible for the destiny of another human being or the planet.
Instead of getting wound up about this stuff, take proactive steps to not only document what will happen if the need is not met but to feel comfortable with it as well.  Here are some suggestions on what you can do:

  1. First, engage in a conversation on this topic.  Do it with the program people, leaders in the organization, front line managers who are delivering your solutions and your colleagues.  Get this conversation going.  It will be good for all of you AND it will help you understand what will happen if you do not meet the need.  It is good to get an intellectual grasp of the consequences of needs not met.
  2. Deal with the voice in your head.  This is, mostly, that little voice that says, “Nothing will happen if the need is not met. Nothing will really happen!”  Confess this to others who you trust.  Why?  Because it helps you process it.  Also, you do need to hold on to this line of thinking as well.  I think it’s good to have this little voice operating as long as you can control it.  Here’s why.  It is always good to question whether the program we are asking our donors to support will actually make a difference.  If you don’t ask that question then you can’t really ask the donor to believe that it will.  So, you must be driven to find out.  But the other side of this question can also be damaging – it can be searching for an answer that does not exist – and it’s that little voice you must control.
  3. Embrace the fact that you are partially responsible for those you serve.  This is a good thing.  You are a critical part of the organization’s solution.  You are securing the resources and the good will of donors who want to help.  This is that “collective we” that is facing the problem and doing something about it.  And since you and your colleagues and the donor have agreed to do something about this need, you are now responsible for the outcome.  This is really serious business now.  So it is helpful to constructively worry about what will happen if the need is not met.

Hopefully this post on documenting what will happen if the need is not met has helped you understand why it is important to grasp the consequences of needs not met and how to deal with them.
In all of our work, Jeff and I have understood that a critical part of being successful in major gift fundraising is this whole area of understanding the need, the causes of the need and that there IS a consequence to a need not being met – and it is not pretty.
We have embraced this reality as a good thing.  You should to.
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