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How to Give Your Donors Purpose They Can Afford

Power of a smile

Power of a smile

Nonprofits: stop staring at my wallet. You’re making me uncomfortable. Instead, offer me something to do (1) that’s worth doing and (2) I can afford.

As Smile Train does. In one ad, the headline reads, “How often do you get the chance to save a child’s life for $250?” In a companion ad, the headline reads, “Of all the good deeds you do in your entire life, this might be the best.” It’s within reach. It’s worth doing.

To quote Seth Godin, the wisest man on marketing’s tallest mountain, “We support a charity … because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”

Being charitable — being compassionate, being kind, being loving and empathetic and helping others with their problems — gives people purpose.

As a survivor of the Nazi death camps, influential psychologist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) knew something about finding meaning in life. The Nazi regime separated him from his young wife, Tilly. They murdered her and his parents, and nearly killed him. When British troops liberated him in 1945, he was barely alive in a meadow of death: 13,000 corpses littered the Bergen-Belsen camp unburied.

“Humans are driven by a will to establish meaning in their lives,” he concluded. “They need purpose.”

“Money CAN buy happiness,” as Michael Norton, a research psychologist and professor at the Harvard Business School, shows in his TED Talk, “when you spend it helping other people.”

Alan Clayton, one of England’s most successful fundraisers, proclaims loudly to any bass-ackwards charity that will listen: “Fundraising is NOT about money!”

I hear his pain. He knows full well this simple, almost completely overlooked, truth: fundraising is about the donor’s mental health, not about the nonprofit organization’s fiscal health.

The charity cares about money. The donor does not. Could there be a bigger divide?

This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications newsletter.

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