What Alcoholics Anonymous can teach us about donor relationships

AA gets a great send-up in a Wired Magazine piece by Brendan Koerner. It’s a lengthy piece but well worth the read for many reasons, not the least of which is Koerner’s discussion of something that still puzzles scientists about AA–and something, I would add, that nonprofit executive directors would do well to heed:

To begin with, there is evidence that a big part of AA’s effectiveness may have nothing to do with the actual steps. It may derive from something more fundamental: the power of the group. Psychologists have long known that one of the best ways to change human behavior is to gather people with similar problems into groups, rather than treat them individually. The first to note this phenomenon was Joseph Pratt, a Boston physician who started organizing weekly meetings of tubercular patients in 1905. These groups were intended to teach members better health habits, but Pratt quickly realized they were also effective at lifting emotional spirits, by giving patients the chance to share their tales of hardship. (“In a common disease, they have a bond,” he would later observe.) More than 70 years later, after a review of nearly 200 articles on group therapy, a pair of Stanford University researchers pinpointed why the approach works so well: “Members find the group to be a compelling emotional experience; they develop close bonds with the other members and are deeply influenced by their acceptance and feedback.”

Note especially that last line as you ask yourself:

  • Are you drawing your donors together into groups?
  • If so, are those groups focused on giving donors the opportunity to articulate their experience…or to admire and appreciate your experience?

We regularly take groups from around the world to South Korea to participate with North Korean defectors in the projects they’re undertaking in an effort to transform their homeland. They stay in the homes of North Korean defectors in order to hear their stories and live a little of their life. They launch Gospel flyers via giant hot air type balloons into North Korea. They teach in our Underground University that equips NKs to serve the underground NK church in South Korea, China, North Korea, and around the world.

And some of the most intense time these visitors have is in their discussion time with each other between each of the activities.

Earlier this week I got an email from one of our past guests–one who had experienced real trauma on the trip as he was overwhelmed with the reality of NK defector life, so much so that he had dropped out of participating with our organization altogether. He noted offhandedly that he and his wife had just returned from a vacation with another of the families he had met on the trip two years ago.

He then asked me for an update on the situation in NK so that he could post it on his blog and mobilize his network to get involved.

Writes Koerner:

Addiction-medicine specialists often raise the concern that AA meetings aren’t led by professionals. But there is evidence that this may actually help foster a sense of intimacy between members, since the fundamental AA relationship is between fellow alcoholics rather than between alcoholics and the therapist. These close social bonds allow members to slowly learn how to connect to others without the lubricating effects of alcohol. In a study published last year in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Tonigan found that “participation in AA is associated with an increased sense of security, comfort, and mutuality in close relationships.”

Makes me wonder whether the most effective reaction strategy for lapsed donors may be a camping trip with a current donor rather than a letter that says, “We haven’t heard from you in a while, and we’re concerned…”

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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