I firmly believe part of the role of a philanthropy facilitator is to foster both individual and community well-being.
You must both:
(1) focus inward, as you can’t help others unless you first help yourself, and
(2) focus on the way you connect with others.
- What you say,
- What you do, and, most important,
- How you make others feel.
- Bridging differences
- Intellectual Humility
- Social Connection
We’ll consider some of these ‘building blocks’ of individual and community well-being in a moment. [If you’re interested in exploring how well you’re incorporating some of these fundamentals into your own life, I encourage you to visit the Greater Good Science Center website and take some of the quizzes they’ve so generously offered (I always love a good quiz!) ***].
But, first, I’d like to address something I find problematic.
Debate around Fostering Donor Well-being
Alas, there are many in today’s social benefit sector who worry they should not be focused on donor well-being.
They’ve come to believe donors, especially major ones, are “self-serving,” reinforcing attitudes from the patriarchy, colonial system and white supremacy. It’s almost as if they’re saying these donors should not be entitled to give in order to get, because they already have more than they deserve?
I hate to get into the subjective business of determining who deserves what. What purpose does judging in this way serve? It certainly is not in service of philanthropy. In fact, in four decades of fundraising, I’ve found one constant in donors who remain loyal and passionate — they repeatedly tell me:
“I get so much more out of this than I give.”
That’s how you want your donors to feel. Because it’s what keeps them coming back. And it simply won’t happen if your main focus is on barriers rather than connections. These “us” vs. “them” attitudes, roughly lumped under the mantle of “community-centric fundraising,” are unfortunate.
When you’re in the business of encouraging people to part with their money to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, shouldn’t you want these donors to feel great joy, and even a bit of heroism, when they make a philanthropic gift?
Shouldn’t you want them to feel connected to your community, enveloped in your loving embrace?
Philanthropy as Love
Let’s look at what philanthropy really means.
The very definition, from the Greek, is “love” (philos) of “humankind” (anthropos)
It’s okay if donors get something out of the value-for-value exchange. In fact, I’d argue it’s imperative. So, consider what you can do to make sure everyone, including your staff and those you serve, gets something they need.
Spread the love around.
You can be “donor-centric” without putting the donor at the center of the equation. Instead of positioning donors as saviors, you can position them as empowerers of all who are fighting the good fight together – your organization, your client, your client’s family and community, your charity.
Save Rowena’s life.
Help Rowena save her own life and the lives of her children.
You can save a child from sex trafficking.
You can give a child the power to fight back against sex slavery.
Think about how you can shift the language in your appeals to show the donor how their love can be empowering, giving added meaning to the lives of those they’d otherwise have perceived as “helpless victims.”
“We are meaning-seeking creatures. Dogs, as far as we know, do not agonize about the canine condition, worry about the plight of dogs in other parts of the world, or try to see their lives from a different perspective. But human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life had meaning and value”
Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way we strive to find meaning and community.
And human beings are on a perpetual quest for meaning. Victor Frankl, in his famous chronicle on the search for meaning, wrote: love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and purpose to life.
Finding your own meaning is important to your psychological well-being. Interestingly, so is helping others find their personal meaning.
When people feel connected with others, one human being to another, they can experience psychological wellbeing. They don’t need to be the only person who has got power in a relationship to experience psychological wellbeing. That sense of having genuinely warm, trusting, and satisfying relationship is a very important component of people’s psychological wellbeing. Helping people experience that is both good for them and good for the people that they choose to love.
Empathy and Cooperation
Empathy, per Anita Nowack, is the only human emotion that expresses equality between people.
Society needs to undergo an empathic revolution if we are to survive as a species… we must engage with empathy; not as spectators, but as fully involved participants. [The state of society today makes] the moral imperative to act explicit. We are facing a set of social and environmental crises that are unprecedented… we are beset by wicked problems.”
In fact, Darwin posited the civilizations that survive are the most empathic, cooperative and compassionate. Cooperation turns out to be the most successful survival strategy. Complex cells evolved from cooperating simple cells. Multicellular organisms are made up of cooperating complex cells. Superorganisms such as bee or ant colonies consist of cooperating individuals, in a condition biologists call eusociality.
When cooperation breaks down, the results can be disastrous.
For example, when cells in our bodies turn rogue the result is cancer. A single cell can break free from the pack and create something monstrous. In my daughter’s college-infused lingo, letting the demons loose makes the world totally cray-cray.
Is it possible, in our fight against such demons as the patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy, we are letting our own demons loose? The nonprofit sector is also called the “civil society.” And we have an important role to play in times like these. We must remind each other what survival really is about.
Attention and Interaction
You give a lot of this power away when enabling a hate-focused rather than love-focused approach. By eschewing “donor-centric” fundraising, and not approaching donors with warmth and care, you deprive them, your organization and the larger community of even greater rewards.
Think of this (it comes from placebo research, but I find it equally applicable to the philanthropy effect):
“[T]he brain translates the act of caring into physical healing, turning on the biological processes that relieve pain, reduce inflammation and promote health, especially in chronic and stress-related illnesses.”
Want to cure what ails individuals and the world simultaneously?
SUMMARY: Practice Caring, Empathy, Cooperation and Love
When you’re in “us vs. them” mode, you cheat everyone, including yourself and those who rely on your important work.
Sure, if a donor is asking you to do something illegal, something that falls outside your mission, is acting abusive, or is engaging in other unreasonable behaviors, it’s fine to take a pass. But to act as if all donors deemed wealthy and privileged are not deserving of your attention, and to eschew your role as philanthropy facilitator with the power to give people purpose and joy, is to actually minimize the influence you have.
The more happiness and meaning you can bring to the world, the better the world will be.
***NOTE: I took the Greater Good Altruism Quiz and was rewarded with these tips to boost my habits of helping.
Fill a day with kindness. According to research, acts of kindness have a bigger impact on our happiness when we perform them all at once, rather than sporadically. Pack one day a week with five acts of kindness, such as feeding a stranger’s parking meter, donating blood, helping a friend with a chore, or providing a meal to a person in need.
Get connected. We’re more likely to behave altruistically when we feel close and connected to others. To bolster those feelings, try the Feeling Connected practice, where you reflect and write about a moment when you feel very connected to someone. Also consider adding reminders of connectedness to your home or work space.
Feel good about giving. Not all giving is creating equal. When we give in ways that not only help others but also make us feel good, we’re more likely to make giving a habit. Research has found that the most happiness-inducing acts of giving don’t feel like an obligation, and they allow us to connect with others and see the impact of our help. So consider choosing activities where you get to spend time with recipients—like helping a friend move or volunteering at a soup kitchen—or donate to charities that clearly explain where your money is going.
Visualize and reflect on giving. According to Stephen Post, we can expand our everyday habits of generosity with a few simple exercises, including journaling about the ways we give to others and receive gifts from them, and visualizing how we could help people we encounter on a daily basis.
Want to Connect More Meaningfully with Donors?
Grab the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. You’ll get six companion guides filled with everything you need to make a great first impression — and then a terrific second, third and fourth impression — by thanking, praising and engaging with your donors in a manner that makes them want to stay loyal to you. And if you can increase retention by just 10%, you can double the lifetime value of your current supporters. So it’s well worth the effort and investment.
All Clairification guides come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. You can’t lose – so why not go for it? Send your donors all the love and flowers you can dream up. Imagine what a hero you’ll be when you totally make your donor’s day, and dramatically increase your nonprofit’s revenue moving forward?
Questions? Email me at email@example.com.
Image of Three San Francisco Hearts: Dorothea Lange. Silver Lining Surf. Digital health Convergence. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation.