I had a fundraising post all ready to launch today, but I just couldn’t do it.
The world seems wildly out of whack right now. I can’t pretend it’s business as usual.
I try to stay away from “politics,” because I know that’s not why you read my blog. However, we live in a political world. And so do our nonprofits, our staff, our volunteers, our donors and our clients. Simply put, politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups.
Nonprofits cannot seal themselves off in little bubbles, pretending what’s happening in the rest of the world doesn’t exist.
That’s why, during the pandemic, I encouraged you to talk about how events touch those who rely on you. It’s why, all the time, I encourage you to relate your work to what’s in the news and top of mind to donors. Be it hurricanes, fires, famine, drought, social unrest, war, civil liberties, mass shootings, homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry, or anything else horrifying to body, mind, heart and soul.
If it’s something you’re thinking about, you can bet it’s something your constituents are thinking about.
If you don’t address it, you risk coming across as unimportant, blind, shallow or out of touch. Being relevant, and meaningful, means getting inside your supporters’ heads and knowing what’s important to them. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? In what way do the emotions they’re currently experiencing interact with your mission? How can they help you, and you help them?
I don’t know how you’ve been feeling, but many folks I’ve been talking to have mentioned anger, outrage and fear. Even those who are happy about one or two things are deeply concerned about other developments. And this holds true for both sides. Listen to Fox News, then listen to MSNBC. You’ll hear equal doses of horror. The pendulum has been swinging wildly, back and forth, and the world seems madly out of whack.
What can the social benefit sector do to bring things back into balance?
I keep coming back to the Golden Rule. What if none of us ever did anything to anyone else we didn’t want them to do unto us? What if we only treated others as we would want to be treated? It seems so simple. So logical. So in everyone’s best interest.
What is it about the human animal that leads the same people who don’t want government to impose mask or vaccine mandates on them wanting to impose no abortion mandates on others? Or, from the other perspective, those who don’t want government telling them they can’t smoke pot wanting to tell others they can’t carry guns? All of this “I can impose, but you can’t” is nonsense from the perspective of “do unto others.” Yet, we persist.
The only way to make sense of these things is through an understanding of balance. We must strive toward philanthropy (translated as “love of humanity”). This means moderation in all things. Compromise. Some restrictions are okay; no restrictions and total restrictions are not.
Two words have been ringing in my ears this week:
Through empathy, we can come from a place of love and understanding.
All good fundraising and nonprofit marketing attempts to build empathy. By writing stories to acquaint us with people in need. By showing us how folks got into the dire straits in which they are in. By making us feel “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” By making us want to help, because we identify with other people’s feelings, thoughts and actions and empathize with their situation.
Civil division, radicalization and globalization present us with a challenge. How do you build empathy for people you can barely imagine? How do we overcome our evolutionary background (fighting over limited resources), which made it expedient to hate our enemies, ignore people we barely knew, and distrust those who didn’t look like us? Even if we’re cooperative within our communities, we become quite different in our treatment of strangers – with whom we find it difficult to identify.
What if we wanted to help all of our neighbors, because we identified with each and every one?
That would be a community that would survive. Big time.
Can you imagine it?
Your job as a philanthropy facilitator, toiling in the vineyards of the social benefit sector, is to do whatever you can to humanize the communal narrative and make it easily accessible to all. Our world is no more black and white than it is red and blue. That’s just nomenclature; a crude and reductionist way to categorize our divides.
Are you using stories to humanize those you help? This is what that might look like:
- Imagine what it would be like to live in a project where you’re intimidated by gangs.
- Imagine what it would be like to see your third-grader shot.
- Imagine being afraid when your son leaves the house, due to the color of his skin.
- Imagine being thrown into prison as a teen-ager.
- Imagine having only polluted water to drink.
- Imagine not being able to buy life-saving medicine for your kids.
- Imagine having no place to go home to; no place to sleep.
- Imagine growing up dirt poor, having to drop out of high school to support your family.
- Imagine being addicted, and having no access to health care.
It’s easy to stigmatize and blame. To be insensitive or indifferent. Even to be cruel. We see it daily. It’s all over social media, in posts, memes and seemingly harmless cartoons. But in adding our voices to the echo chamber of vitriol, we do nothing to bring our world back into balance.
What are you doing to build the empathy our world needs to survive?
Through mercy, we begin to repair the world.
A recent New York Times opinion essay captured my attention: America the Merciless.
“At our worst, we ourselves display an undeniable strain of mercilessness, in ways that have come to pervade our culture. Minor mistakes are taken as capital offenses. Apologies are often forced and true forgiveness, rare. In the push to identify and condemn an enemy, we fail to allow for people to make amends. The drive toward justice and accountability too often veers toward blame, retribution and abnegation.”
There is a cattiness, even a savagery, to much of today’s discourse. So much hate and vitriol and, to be honest, it often feels deserved. It can be cathartic to rant at the universe, and our perceived enemies, but to what end? Playing the blame game serves no one well.
“How do we ask young people just starting out, or older people who have seen so much progress reversed, to care about a country that seems so determined to care so little for them? How do we celebrate on the Fourth of July a country whose laws and institutions so often fail to bring out the best in us?
We’re inundated on a relentless daily basis with the worst of humanity. People fight for their life on death row… they long for the right to die without excruciating pain at life’s end… they understandably seek not to have their rapist’s baby… they fight for the safety of their children in schools. “America generally goes with the least empathetic option.”
Everything feels broken. So broken, we just want to curl up into a ball and cry. Or stick our heads deep under the sand and pretend things are different. Alas, while we do that, nothing gets fixed.
I’m reminded of a Jewish commandment called tikkun olam. It means to repair the world. It’s an embracing concept that extends beyond the individual and their own community to all of humanity. You are commanded to take care of others, not just yourself. In this regard, the world bends toward tzedek – justice. Tzedek, interestingly, also means equity and balance.
When we conscientiously push the world towards equity and balance, justice is achieved; the world ceases to be out of whack.
I’d like to believe the social benefit sector can step up to lead this desperately needed push. Nonprofits exist because something is not as it should be. Fixing what’s wrong is our task, and it has always been so. If you feel helpless to do that, begin with your family and friends.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. In the end, however, it’s much easier than doing nothing.
What will you do?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash