Let’s talk about donors.
We fundraisers seem to have complex feelings about donors. Are they your boss? Do you need to worry about a “savior complex”? Or are they a source from which you extract money?
Are they friend or foe?
People are people… and donors are people, too.
To borrow from Depeche Mode, donors are people. In any group of donors, you’ll find a wide variety of people. And they’ll tell you they give for a variety of reasons.
You’ll find unpleasant people, who think giving makes them superior.
Or people who give out of a sense of social or religious obligation.
You’ll find kind people who give because they can, and sometimes, when they nearly can’t.
You’ll find a variety of people in any group. And yes, some donors aren’t very nice. They’re probably not nice to most of the people they interact with. The same with people who think giving makes them important. Or with people who give for giving’s sake.
But shoehorning donors into any one category is harmful.
Do donors’ reasons for giving matter?
So, assuming your donors represent a variety of people… does it matter why they give?
If they give to your good cause because it makes them look better in the eyes of their social peers, is the gift tainted? If they give because they feel sorry for someone your organization works with, is that an example of a savior complex?
I want to be clear: the stories you tell about beneficiaries should never place them in a lesser position. I’m talking about empathy for everyone involved: beneficiaries and donors. We’re trying to build bridges between people. That does not require putting anyone down.
Reaching people where it matters, in their hearts, should be humanizing for all involved. And would you rather they didn’t give at all?
(Another note: I’m talking about individual donors today. There are lots of reasons to be more careful with corporate partnerships. Corporations are not people, my friends.)
Do you control who gives… and why?
Does the way you describe your organization’s work change who gives? And do their motives matter?
I think we give ourselves too much power when we worry about whether donors give for the right reasons.
And it adds a whole layer of worry to our communications. If you’re trying to say something to your donors but you’re thinking about crossing some invisible line and showing too much care, that’s going to hurt your results. Because it’s going to shift your thinking from sharing one person to another. Hush that little voice and think the best of each person you’re communicating with.
“If I share a story about our mission that shows someone who needs help, does that put the donor in a superior position?”
Only if money is everything and humanity means nothing.
Can we offer a compelling reason to give, illustrated with an emotional story? Yes, and experience proves that it usually works better. Does that mean we’re guilty of using emotions to generate gifts?
Maybe it does. That doesn’t worry me in the least.
Emotions are communication
Here’s why: our emotions are at the heart of everything we do. We make emotional decisions. And that’s a great thing. Mother Nature has evolved us to use them that way. And that millennia of experience has resulted in you actually being here. Long ago, a couple of people were not eaten by an animal because their immediate, emotional reaction to a situation saved them.
So yay, emotions!
Also, consider that giving away your hard-earned money isn’t rational. Sure, some people may consider a gift a financial transaction. (“You give $250 to my organization, and I’ll give the same to yours.”)
But most people give from their hearts. If necessary, they quickly rationalize the choice.
They give because they want to give. And isn’t that a lovely thing?
How are you treating the people who support your cause?
If you think of donors as your opponents or even your bosses, you’ll have a pretty miserable time of it. That’s a lot of stress on your shoulders.
But if, instead, you think of donors as humans, with a variety of characteristics, you’ll be happier working with them. If you refuse to prejudge anyone for how or what they give, you’ll feel better about yourself, too. And the kindness you bring to your work is contagious.
If you care about your organization’s cause, then the people who also care share something important with you. Start from there.
Photo by Masha Danilova on Unsplash