Who do you think would win in an all-out brawl between nonprofit directors and business leaders?
I thought I was about to find out recently at a conference on social enterprise.
A heated exchange erupted in a panel discussion around the topic of “scale.” Business folks said social solutions are meaningless unless they eliminate problems. Nonprofit folks argued that problems were much more complex than their opponents would admit, and that there is a social benefit to simply helping people in need.
Before the boxing gloves came out, the moderator cut the discussion short and asked everyone to take a break.
As I look back, I don’t know why I was so surprised by this scene. A tension between charity and philanthropy has been playing out in one way or another for hundreds of years.
You may be surprised that there’s a distinction between philanthropic giving and charitable giving. Simply put, philanthropy interests itself in long-term solutions by addressing the root causes of social problems. Charity is more focused on meeting immediate needs to alleviate suffering. Many people are attracted to one form of giving over the other, but philanthropists have begun to dominate the national giving conversation.
Institutional funders and business leaders have dramatically shifted the narrative toward measurable impact and scale; in an effort to satisfy their funders, nonprofits are frantically attempting to measure their effect through research and statistical analysis.
This is good news for philanthropists, but is this the way everyone looks at the world?
I worked for an organization whose mission was to break the cycle of homelessness in our community, and we were laser-focused on helping our clients lead independent lives free from any public support. This is tough to accomplish, because the causes of homelessness are complex as well as unique to each individual. After a few years but while I still worked there, I took a tour of a local food pantry that did only three things: gave homeless people a sandwich, a place to take a shower, and help completing the paperwork needed to get an ID card. That’s it.
I took my place in line as a volunteer and started handing out sandwiches. After just a couple of hours, I left feeling amazing and like I had really accomplished something. Unfortunately, going back to work the next day to “break the cycle of homelessness” was like returning to the salt mine.
I just didn’t get it. We were doing great work at our nonprofit, and we were focused on long-term solutions. Why did it feel so much better just to hand a hungry person a sandwich?
Ask yourself that same question as you prepare for your next fundraising appeal; your answer will give you keen insights into how you should plan the campaign.
Because philanthropic language is so dominant right now, you may be tempted to load your solicitation pieces with graphs and statistics. You may be thinking that everyone wants to see how you measure impact because that’s what your institutional funders are asking for. And what better way to show impact than with a graph (or, even more popular, an infographic)?
But consider your audience. If you’re appealing to normal, everyday people, wouldn’t it be better to make them feel the way I did when I handed a hungry person a sandwich?
When it comes to asking individuals for a gift, making a tangible, emotional connection between them and your cause will lead to better results. Don’t tell them about your impact, and above all don’t use the word “impact” – instead, paint a picture with vivid images and stories. Include a link to your website for those who may be more philanthropically minded, but always remember that by far, individuals make giving decisions based more on emotional impulse than on logical reasoning.
As the debate between philanthropy and charity continues, don’t let your fundraising efforts become a casualty. Know your audience and craft your messaging to appeal to their hearts.
Do you need help understanding the right messaging or executing your next fundraising campaign? We may be able to help. Learn more about Achieve’s research and campaign services and let’s talk!