It seems that we now have to "LOVE" our donors. Appreciating, honoring, and thanking them isn't enough. We have to show them "LOVE." After reading many articles and sitting through a bunch of webinars primarily by practitioners I genuinely respect, I am left to wonder precisely what kind of "LOVE" they mean. The love between a parent and a child, the love between two people, the love one has for a pet. Or the way one loves a piece of art or music. What kind of "LOVE" am I, as a fundraiser, required to give to the donors to the organization where I work to make my living?
Let's assume I use "LOVE" language in my correspondence to garner donors, but we don't really mean it. We are just emotionally manipulating them to meet our income goals. Is that fair to them? Or what if they don't "LOVE" us in return? What if they don't make a donation or renew their gift? Did they reject our "LOVE." How should we feel?
It seems to me it is not entirely ethical to lead donors on with language that is emotionally beyond how we feel. This is true no matter whose name is on the letter. It might be even worse when the letter comes from senior leadership with no real relationship with most donors.
I am fascinated by two things. First, if I truly "LOVE" my donors, isn't that putting a big responsibility on me emotionally? On the other hand, if it is just all talk, what does that say about me as a person and a fundraiser? In other words, I am faking it.
This "LOVE" language approach may be fine and dandy while the money comes in, but what happens when we spill out our "LOVE" and the answer is no, or the mailing is unsuccessful? Was our love spurned? Are we not loved back anymore? Did we fail somehow?
So I asked Lisa Temoshok, LMHC, what she thought from a clinical perspective. Could using "LOVE" language cause or trigger a traumatic reaction in a fundraiser or a donor? Can it confuse a mental health issue?
What I learned was both reaffirmed and challenging of my thesis. Here is what I learned.
Love is a BIG word, and we use it to describe how we feel about our family (our "loved" ones") and our favorite ice cream flavor. As a therapist, I have come to think of love as a practice -- a moment by moment choice -- to offer clients "unconditional positive regard." Unconditional positive regard is a term humanist psychologist Carl Rogers used to describe his non-directive, client-centered therapy.
"It means caring for the client, but not in a possessive way or in such a way as simply to satisfy the therapist's own needs," explained Rogers in a 1957 article published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology. "It means caring for the client as a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences."
When the foundation of our interactions with others, professionally and personally, is guided by a personal and organizational commitment to the practice of strengths-based, unconditional positive regard, we build safety, trust, and choice.
Lisa encourages us to be present for the experience of asking and giving. Thinking carefully about the words and the emotions that we use is essential not just for the donor but for the fundraiser as well. We, as fundraisers, have a responsibility to ourselves and our donors. We should remember that being donor-centric does not mean manipulating language. It means honestly telling donors how their support helped accomplish your mission and how future donations will continue to create success. We do not have to "LOVE" them, and the donors do not "LOVE" us either - respect each other, yes; "LOVE," no. If we fall, we can do damage to ourselves emotionally, which is why we must always view our activities through a trauma-informed lens.
The Keys To Good Fundraising Found In An Unusual Place
In life, we often find unexpected connections in the most unlikely places. My recent journey from a non-profit organization to water aerobics has taught me valuable lessons about building relationships, and the principles I've learned in the pool also apply to the world of fundraising.
My decision to embark on a fitness journey came after leaving my job and realizing I needed to shed some excess weight accumulated over a challenging period. Ankle surgeries, a newfound passion for baking during the pandemic, and the demands of my former job had taken a toll on my health. Traditional cardio workouts were not an option due to my ankle issues, so I found myself in the world of water aerobics. Little did I know what I was getting into.
In my mind, water aerobics was all about graceful swim caps and elegant water ballet. However, I found a group of determined women of a certain age who were committed to their health and fitness. There was no grace here; it was all about vigorous engagement with the water, using water weights and noodles in ways I had never imagined. I was the only male in the class, notably younger, struggling to keep up. I sensed some skepticism from the group at first. They welcomed me politely, but I could tell they wondered if I would stick around.
With perseverance, I continued the water aerobics journey, and 25 pounds lighter, I became fully accepted by the group. I even received the ultimate recognition when I was called out during a game of water dodger ball with a resounding, "Let's Go, Girls!" It was in that moment that I knew I had become one of them.
Now, you might be wondering how water aerobics relates to the world of fundraising.
Fundraising, at its core, is all about building and nurturing relationships. These relationships can be real or perceived. A real relationship is akin to a person's bond with their alma mater or when they support a cause closely linked to a personal or familial issue. On the other hand, perceived relationships are formed when the struggles of others move you, or you wish to contribute to addressing a societal or cultural challenge.
Regardless of the type, establishing a connection is crucial to fundraising. Just like my journey in water aerobics, it's easy to get it wrong. Fundraisers must find ways to bridge the gap between their mission and the perspective of potential donors. It's about building a bridge of understanding and shared purpose.
Here are some key takeaways from my experience in water aerobics that can be applied to the world of fundraising:
Perseverance Pays Off: Just as I had to persevere in water aerobics to gain acceptance, fundraisers should be persistent in building relationships with potential donors. Don't be discouraged by initial skepticism or challenges; keep working towards your goals. Be
Open to Change: I had to change my expectations and adapt to the reality of water aerobics. Similarly, fundraisers should be open to adjusting their strategies and messages to better resonate with donors. The ability to adapt and evolve is crucial.
Shared Purpose: Success comes with a shared purpose in water aerobics and fundraising. Find ways to connect your cause to the values and interests of your donors. Show them how they can make a meaningful impact.
Patience is Key: Building strong relationships takes time. Just as I needed time to earn the trust and acceptance of my water aerobics group, fundraisers should be patient and invest in the long-term cultivation of donor relationships.
In conclusion, the unexpected connection I found in water aerobics taught me valuable lessons about building relationships, which can be applied to the world of fundraising. Bridging the gap between your mission and the perspective of potential donors is essential. It may be challenging, but it's gratifying in the end, just like my journey in the water. So, whether in the pool or the fundraising world, remember that perseverance, adaptability, shared purpose, and patience are key to success, along with a good pair of goggles.