Trauma In and Through Fundraising - a conversation begins.
I have been thinking about trauma and fundraising. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that I've been thinking about trauma. I hear the word "trauma" far more frequently in many more circumstances than ever before, and I wonder about utilizing a trauma-informed approach to fundraising. Bessel van der Kolk, author of "The Body Keeps the Score" writes that trauma is "an event that overwhelms the central nervous system, altering how we process and recall memories…Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then; it is the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside people."
There is increasing consideration regarding how we, as fundraisers, have the opportunity and respond to individuals' life experiences by listening and writing about their lives from a compassionate, trauma-informed perspective, having always gotten their permission to share that story. The reality is that everyone has a level of trauma in their lives. It could be in childhood, adulthood, or even vicarious- as experienced by others. One reference made the point that no matter how or when a person experiences trauma, co-founder of The Sanctuary Model, Joseph Foderaro, stated, "It's not 'What's wrong with you?' but 'What happened to you?'"
So what about fundraisers? We are just people who have our own past experiences, present-day concerns, and hopes for the future. Perhaps our fundraising mantra ("every NO is actually a MAYBE") may not be trauma-informed and may even trigger intrusive memories and reactivity in ourselves and others. If we never accept "no," we continually set ourselves for disappointment. Because no matter how much we claim that we don't take "no" personally, we do, even if for a moment, and that could trigger the trauma we carry.
And the donors? Sure, we know a lot about their monetary value and may know some things about their political and ethical mindset. But what do we really know about their authentic lives? How they grew up? How do they live now? What it took to get to where they would appear on our prospect list? Sure, The trauma is sometimes public, and you can google your way into the worst moments of an individual's life. But how does that individual relate to that experience now? ? Not how they appeared to deal with the experience on PAGE SIX, but how they relate to the experience in the present moment. Perhaps that experience motivates them to share their story and contribute to an organization. What trauma have they faced, and how does it affect their lives, especially their relationship with wealth. Traumatic experiences may inform how donors relate to and decide how to use their wealth.
I am not suggesting that we as fundraisers act as a therapist or that we should ask prospects, donors, and Board members to share their traumatic experiences with us, or that we should make assumptions and label an individual's personal experience as trauma. But, first, We do need to reflect on we need to look hard at why we are fundraisers, our relationship with money, and how we understand our place within our organization. For example, have you ever been told that payroll won't be covered unless you raise more money by a specific date? How did you respond? How do you respond now, reading the question? Perhaps you felt a physical reaction. Paying compassionate attention to our physical sensations is the foundation of trauma-informed fundraising. Now, start to talk about trauma.
I want to thank Lisa Temoshok, LMHC, for her invaluable assistance in this blog post. www.lisatemshok.com
Great Job Available - Anyone? Hello? Is Anyone There?
A couple of months ago, I was excited to post for a new and much-needed position in my fundraising department a Manager of Special Events. They would also help create and run our Young Professional group. I had worked hard to not only get permission for the position. I tried to design a position that would be interesting and even fun for someone interested in doing events at a large Human Services organization. A place where every dollar you helped raise would genuinely make a difference.
I did my research before writing the description by contacting a number of my peers and getting their feedback. I even researched similar job announcements listed by organizations like ours. Finally, I put together what I felt was a clear, fair, and interesting job description. I added just enough about the organization but focused on the job and the good stuff about working for our organization and my department. I emphasized our location in Downtown Brooklyn, our modern offices, the inclusive approach we take to our work, and the position's ability to help design exactly how the job would work. Also, the ability to work remotely two days a week.
We announced the position with a bit of fanfare. Listed it everywhere we could think of, especially places beyond the usual. We posted it on social media, had it cross-posted by senior staff, and even paid to promote the position on Linkedin. I even did a video talking about the role and inviting prospects to reach out with questions.
The results were - crushing. Yes, over 350 people looked at the description on our website, while about 40 opened the application and 13 actually applied. Of those, we did two interviews with one candidate, made an offer, renegotiated the salary, and they ultimately decided not to accept the position.
I understand the decision not to take a position. Goodness knows I have turned down a few myself because of a better offer or just a feeling. What I need to figure out now is what stopped so many people who looked at the description from applying and why so few of those who opened the application completed it.
We are starting from scratch and pulling the job description from all of its placements, rewriting the description, and taking a long look with our HR department at the actual online job application. We can't leave any stone unturned.
If I had these issues, I assume every department and program in our organization has the same problems filling other positions. Therefore, I hope that I will not only find someone to fill my Manager of Special Events position but help the organization fill more jobs.
I wonder if you have had similar issues trying to fill positions in these awkward and interesting times. If so, I'd love to hear what you have done.