Two Videos: How Donors Connect…and How They Don’t

Most of us in the nonprofit world exhibit a skewed, inaccurately idealized image of:

  • how donors are connected
  • what they are connected to
  • what passes along those connections

Our idealized fundraising models are based on a Matrix-like image of donor connectivity. In our models, information generated by a nonprofit–in the form of a newsletter or email or tweet–tumbles outward from us on a straight-line path to a donor, who receives it and passes it on to others in his or her sphere of influence in the way and for the purpose the nonprofit intended.

That idealized model is flawed in several ways:

  • In reality, donors pass on very little of the information they receive from and about organizations
  • Of the information they do pass on, they rarely pass it on in a straight-line fashion, i.e., even a retweet reshapes the information through the change in context (from nonprofit to donor)
  • Donors pass on information for their own purposes, not those of the nonprofits originating the information (think of this as a kind of information mashup, which is the typical way information is transferred by human beings). Since nonprofits rarely think in terms of the things that might motivate donors to pass on information, they can’t imagine either the content or the form that is most conducive to information transfer

A far more accurate illustration of donor connectivity comes from the following video, which, while designed to depict (of all things) traffic patterns in Lisbon, perfectly conveys a number of profound truths about how donors connect. First watch the video, then consider these truths:

  • People are not discrete nodes on an idealized information transfer network but are instead more like blood vessels, smooshed up into each other through densely packed relationships (both casual and formal) as they (not simply strands of information) tumble along through life.
  • In other words, people don’t simply pass on information but instead pass on themselves in a million small ways everyday. Sure there are transactions, but these are far and away the least common (though must studied) way humans share. The main way humans share is that their characters/natures/personalities simply smoosh into each other as they “do life” together and side by side.
  • The most effective way to impact your cause, then, is not to supply donors with information, as if they dutifully pass it along to others, but to support donors in their own character/nature/personality transformation as relates to the cause itself.
  • Remember that these kinds of transformations are never individual in nature: when something truly impacts our character/nature/personality, we will pass it along to others as a matter of course, simply by rubbing up against them as we live.

Sum it up in two observations:

  • The modern fundraising model is fundamentally flawed because it thinks in terms of information transfer leading to financial transactions. Life is far more organic than that. Fundraising must think in terms of personal transformations that–of necessity–impact all those who come in contact with the one who has been/is being transformed.
  • Because modern fundraising traffics in idealized (read: “badly flawed”) ways of thinking of human beings as discrete containers of meaning and interest, it overlooks that fundraising is inherently communal/corporate and must be comprehended and practiced as such.

Next week we launch a mini-series on this blog that I think will rank as one of the top four or five that we’ve yet done on this site. In essence, it will be a call to shift fundraising from a Matrix-like informational flow conception to a blood vessel-like process of corporate transformation.

I realize that may sound rather abstract or theoretical at the moment, but just extend a little trust my way, give the above videos one more view as you muse over these things, and then join me as we reconvene next week to talk about Coaching Champions Corporately.

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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