Are Donors Really Looking for Impact…or Vision? (And If So, Do We Even Have One?)

Visionaries can see a world that doesn’t exist. This is the reason we call them visionary – because they can see into the future.  They can imagine products or services not yet invented. They can envision a way of living  different to the way we live now.

Great quote above from Simon Sinek in his Re:Focus post entitled The Visionary’s Dilemma. And it causes me to ask the question–amidst all of the paeans to how donors want IMPACT IMPACT IMPACT from nonprofits (or should want it, since apparently they don’t want it badly enough yet):

Are donors really looking for impact…or could it be genuine vision that they hunger for? And if so, do we know how to share ours in a way that excites them?

Hence what Sinek terms the Visionary’s Dilemma: Visionaries may see the brave new world that only exists in their mind’s eye. But they typically stink at describing it to others.

Sinek offers three really good suggestions for remedying this deficiency. I especially like point 3, which is, sadly, an exceedingly rare skill and practice among visionaries:

1. Words that require thinking should be avoided, words like “convergence,” for example. When someone says that in a sentence, I have to furl my brow and really pay attention.

2. Explain why it matters, not what you’re doing. Who cares if you’re  “developing applications for mobile devices…blah blah blah,” why should I care?

3. And most importantly, always, always speak as if you’re describing an image.  A picture.  A scene.

An image. A picture. A scene. Sinek’s phrase sent me rifling back through an old external hard drive of client proposals and other marketing documents I have written over the years. The following one was written when both Transformational Giving and I were much younger. It was never adopted by the organization to which I presented it. They’re out of business now, though I’m sure that’s sheer coincidence.

Of all the vision pieces I’ve ever written, I have to say that this one–the images, the pictures, the scenes–still captivates me the most.

And I have absolutely no idea why.

We believe in the almost magical power of the shared meal to strengthen community bonds and overcome division.  When people eat together, it’s harder for them to pull further apart.  At times, eating together can collapse boundaries that nothing else overcomes.

We bring many different groups together that are either traditionally at odds or simply strangers:  young people and old; people from different racial backgrounds or economic levels; labor and management; even different gangs and political parties.  When we gather these people together, we don’t preach.  We don’t moderate.  We don’t negotiate.  We simply prepare a hospitable table and let the sharing of a meal work its magic.

We have a variety of programs that operate at a variety of levels in society.

For individuals and families, we offer a monthly package containing all the ingredients necessary to make four delicious, nutritious, complete, and easy-to-prepare meals.  Because of our buying power, we’re able to offer high-quality food products at surprisingly low prices.  In exchange for this, however, participants are required to pledge that at least one of the meals will be used to bridge a boundary.  This hardly has to be anything so grand as hosting rival gangs at one’s house; in fact, one of the most important boundaries we work to overcome is the increasingly fractionalization of the American family: Agreeing to prepare, serve, and eat a meal with one’s own family once a week will fulfill the package requirement.

At a local level, we work to help churches and other community-based organizations rediscover the lost art of hospitality.  At the most basic level, that means that participants pick up their monthly meal packages there.  At a more advanced level, we equip these groups to host meals that strengthen bonds and overcome division in their communities—Muslims dining with Christians, for example, or Koreans dining with Americans.

At a wider community level, we work to host special events that recapture the transforming power of a community gathered at table.  Our annual Great Day of Thanksgiving, for example, seeks to restore the lost power of this great holiday to draw together whole communities.  Today, Thanksgiving has become a highly privatized family affair, but this is far away from the events of the first Thanksgiving in which an entire community gathered together across ethnic and economic boundaries to give thanks for the goodness they had received in the past year.  By hosting community-wide Thanksgiving meals, we see the holiday re-imbued with its original, almost breathtaking significance.

At a national and international level, we participate in high profile opportunities to bring at times warring factions to eat around the same table.

Further, our catalog serves as a thoughtful resource not only for treasured items like table settings, utensils, and high quality food materials like our own private label bread, but also as a gathering together of everything from cookbooks to scholarly writings about the power of a shared meal and recovering the lost art of hospitality.  Our financial base consists of revenues from meals package and catalog sales, as well as grants and donations we receive from private foundations and donors who share our conviction about the power of a shared meal.

Man. Someone should really bring that vision to life someday. Someone…

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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3 Responses to Are Donors Really Looking for Impact…or Vision? (And If So, Do We Even Have One?)

  1. I especially liked the link “don’t want it badly enough”

  2. Roy says:

    Dang it, Eric, you are making me think again. I hate that.

  3. Pingback: A grand vision of what donor development can be that comes from, um, tax preparation software « Transformational Giving

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