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.