When do your donors feel most fully alive?

When do your donors feel most fully alive in relation to the cause about which you are both so passionate?

Odds on we nonprofit leaders are deluding ourselves if we think donors would ever actually say any of the following in their answer to that question:

  • “As a donor, I feel most fully alive in relation to the cause when I receive the annual calendar from the nonprofit I support. No, it’s when I receive their address labels. Oh, it’s a toss-up; they both jazz me greatly.”
  • “As a donor, I feel most fully alive in relation to the cause when I receive a report detailing the impact that the nonprofit I support is having. I’m so excited that my money is really making a difference.”
  • “As a donor, I feel most fully alive in relation to the cause when my nonprofit tells me what a huge impact I am having by supporting them.”

I love Care 2’s Jocelyn Harmon‘s comment about her grandmother on her recent blog post on passion and nonprofits:

Before my grandmother died, she told me that the time that she felt most alive in her life was during the Civil Rights Movement.  I was surprised by this statement.  After all, she had four amazing daughters and five amazing grandchildren in her lifetime (including me!).  Yet, it was helping to end American Apartheid that moved her to the core.  That ignited her passion.

My grandmother was an amazing woman but her longings and desire to connect to something bigger than herself are quite ordinary.

It would be great to hear from Jocelyn exactly how her grandmother was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Something tells me that she was doing more than sending in checks in response to fundraising appeals. As Jocelyn quickly notes in her post, donors are not a different species from nonprofit leaders; after all, both want to make history:

Look around and you will see this desire expressed in many ways.  Some people attend churches or mosques or temples.  Others take drugs.  All you have to do is witness our cultural obsession withAmerican Idol to understand our collective longing to “touch the stars” and experience largess.

As nonprofit leaders and movement builders we have an amazing privilege and opportunity to help people connect to this powerful, yet basic human desire.  We can be that vehicle for our volunteers, donors, employees, board members and clients to connect to greatness.  We can help them “make history.”

[Editor’s note: That’s the second post in a row where we’ve heard the nonprofit referred to positively as a vehicle for its constituents. Would that this portends a trend.]

I wholeheartedly endorse Jocelyn’s admonition that time spent helping our constituents to make history using us as the platform is time well spent–a far better expenditure than merely time spent on running operations well for the nonprofit (which these days is really just the price of entry):

The problem is we can’t do this if we spend all of our time focused on the minutiae of running our organizations.  While budgets must be managed, programs must be evaluated, and people must be hired and fired, we must also set aside time for the organization and it’s constituents to DREAM.

When do you induce dreaming in your constituents?

  • At your fundraising banquet are you casting a vision for them as cause-drivers…or as supporters for your vision?
  • In your fundraising letters are you urging them to dream big about the impact they can make…or are you urging them simply to write a big check?
  • In your personal interactions with them, how much of your time is spent discussing their impact on the cause…not just your own?

In The Last Station, the new movie on the life of Leo Tolstoy, there is a fantastic scene where Tolstoy–then the most celebrated writer on the planet–greets his new secretary, Valentin, brushing aside Valentin’s questions and instead asking, “Now, tell me how your work is coming along.” Valentin, a young man of 23, is fairly well dumbstruck not only to be in the presence of such greatness but to have such greatness asking him questions about his work and wellbeing. Tolstoy misinterprets Valentin’s tearful silence as a sign that he has done something to disturb his new secretary, but Valentin quickly corrects him. “It’s just that you are Leo Tolstoy,” he says, “and I am no one, and yet you are asking me about my work.”

Why does that never happen in a donor meeting?

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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