One of the most frustrating behaviors I’ve encountered in my career in fundraising is people (of every type) covering up the need that their non-profit exists to address.
They try to pretty-up the need, to make it “acceptable” to the donor – as if that were an important value.
Jeff and I did a webinar last year where we were talking about taking the donor to the need through words and pictures. There was a picture of a malnourished child in our presentation. A person listening to and viewing the webinar objected to the picture, stating: “That’s so horrible. Why do you have to show that picture?”
Could the reason be because it’s true? Could it be that kids are suffering here in our country as well as overseas, because of the injustice of the systems they’re in? Could it be that this kind of truth is so hard to take that we just don’t want to see it? Of course it is.
Have you ever been in the presence of a starving child? I have. In Bangladesh. And in Africa. And with the garbage-pickers of the Philippines. And in South America. I’ve been in their presence. And it rips your heart out. It’s very, very difficult. It is not a joyful walk in the park. It’s dark. It’s disturbing. It makes you angry. The memory keeps you up at night.
It’s all of those things. And it is one more thing. It is true.
Why do we struggle with the truth of need?
The fact is that cancer is a devastating thing. So is being homeless. And being put in prison unjustly. And not having an education is hurtful. And having a polluted lake, or an abused animal. I could go on and on through every cause of every non-profit. The fact is that the needs addressed by non-profits run the range of sad and needless to devastating.
That’s the nature of need.
But we just have to pretty it up. Jeff’s and my business partner Carter Wade reminded me of how the insiders do this:
- “Don’t use the word extreme to describe poverty.” What!!?? And if it IS extreme poverty, how should we talk about it? “They were suffering from a little poverty. Nothing serious. It was just a tiny bit.” Really?
- “Don’t use underlining or bold to accentuate words. It makes things look too urgent.” Oh, so what you’re doing isn’t urgent? The need can wait until next year? Really?
- “Don’t show an image of the problem. We want to focus on the solution.” Oh boy. This is really messed up. So, you’re telling your donor that the thing is already taken care of. Not to worry, donor, we have it handled! No need to bother you with the need or the problem. I know it’s embedded in your heart and spirit as something you want to address. But we’re not talking about YOU, the donor. No, it is about us. WE feel uncomfortable with the need.
And there are many more examples. It’s a fatal disease that many authority figures and fundraisers have. Frankly, we don’t understand why these folks are even in the non-profit sector. A non-profit is where you band together with like-minded folks to solve societal problems.
One thing Jeff and I don’t expect you to do is get comfortable with the need your non-profit is addressing. Nope. You should never do that. It’s not a goal or a value. The need should always “bother” you. It’s a problem that needs a solution.
You should never get comfortable with the need. But you SHOULD get comfortable talking about it truthfully. Why? Because that’s your job. To truthfully and faithfully represent the problem to the donor – and then ask them to help solve it. (Tweet it!)
Don’t forget this. It’s critical to your success. And even more importantly, it’s what your caseload donor needs.