What Feeds your soul?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 9th, 2011 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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I am sure that if you are fortunate, as I am, you have eaten your way through the recent Thanksgiving holiday and anxiously anticipating the holiday feasts still to come.  Thus, I’m pretty certain that for most of you, your body is well fed.

But how’s your soul doing?  This is a need which I hear repeatedly, mostly from people explaining to me why they have decided to leave the corporate world and join the nonprofit world.  I heard it again in a recent  story on NPR about an unemployed young man in England looking to find a job; turns out his career counselor, who left a job in banking because he needed to feed his soul and help others, is himself being made redundant the middle of December.  So, feeding the soul is not simply an American need!

There is a lesson here that every nonprofit should learn—if it doesn’t know it already–and then be particularly mindful of every time it thinks of asking someone for money.  Thus, it is a particularly important lesson this time of year as hundreds of thousands of nonprofits do their end of the year appeal.  It plays directly into the course of being a donor centric organization, something I think all organizations must be.

While people who do not work in the nonprofit sector give to charities for a variety of reasons, from payback to personal connection to hope, and more, there is little doubt that for most, if not all, people also give to feed their souls.  This need to think or say “I’m helping” or “I’m making a difference” does not, in any way, diminish their gift or the other reasons spawning their giving.  But we also must be mindful of it.  And I don’t think many charities are doing so well in that department!

Reading the solicitation letters I receive or looking at solicitation ads in various media outlets, I’m not finding the soul food—the part that allows me to see how giving to this particular charity is going to redeem, let along nourish, my soul.  And I’m looking for it—not because I give to feed my soul, but because I know so many others do.  I want to see how many smart charities are out there, making it easy for donors to connect, not just give.  Much time, energy and money has been spent by nonprofits everywhere making it easy for donors to give on line, via Facebook or Twitter, using Paypal or other third-party sites.  We’ve made the act of giving as convenient as possible for the individual preferences of each donor.

I know most organizations think they have spent a lot of time and energy, maybe even money, crafting the perfect solicitation, the one that will compel the potential donor to become an actual donor.  Most, however, seem to fall way far short!  I’m hearing too much about me the organization and what we’ve done and nothing or not enough about the donor.  Instead, there should be more about what the donor wants to know and not what you want the donor to know about you.  Explain what donors’ gift investments—and, if a repeat donor, his/her investment gift, in particular—accomplished.  It isn’t about what you, the organization, did, but about what happened as a result of donors’ gifts?   In knowing the good work they enabled, donors’ souls are fed.

So, stop reading this, grab your solicitations and, with a most critical eye, submit them to review.  If you find no food for the soul, scrap them and get to work!

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.