As nonprofit professionals, I think it’s important that we take what I call an honest “humility audit” of our intentions when it comes to what we’re sharing with our supporters.
Before I dive in, please know that this blog post isn’t meant to attack anyone! I’m right there with you. As an Executive Director of a small nonprofit, I know how easy it can be to lose sight of this when day-to-day demands pile up.
Your nonprofit exists to fight an urgent need. That means you need to educate and inspire your audience on topics that may be sensitive or potentially overwhelming.
In addition to that, you have to keep up with larger issues that affect the problem your nonprofit is addressing. That means you’re having to constantly learn and trying to improve—and need to do so in a way that honors and supports the work you’re trying to do. One way to do that is to come from a place of humility.
So how do we do this? As I mentioned above, one way to go about this is by conducting a “humility audit” of the nonprofit messages you share.
Below you’ll find some dos and don’ts for how to go about this.
Do be authentic.
When you’re honest and speak from the heart, your messages come across as authentic—and it’s this authenticity that draws supporters in and gets them invested in your cause. After all, this helps create real connections that you can nurture into long-lasting relationships.
What does it mean to be authentic? It boils down to being true to your mission’s values and spirit. So, when you’re writing your appeals and other communications, go back to how you want to do your work, how you want your team to do that work (because your internal culture should reflect those values too), and what you really want to communicate about your nonprofit to supporters.
Tip: If possible, have someone outside of your organization read through them too. After all, they’ll be more objective than you’ll be able to be.
Do collaborate with others—and share how they’ve impacted your work.
When you collaborate with others, you show that achieving your mission isn’t solely your responsibility. You tell your supporters that they have a crucial role to play in helping you carry out your mission. When you share that in your messages, you inspire them to take a desired action.
One way to do this is to give credit where credit is due. Thank your staff, volunteers, fundraisers, donors, supporters, and anyone else who helped you do the important work you do.
This not only promotes teamwork, but it also builds a sense of community. And when you make supporters and donors feel like they’re a part of your community, you once again build relationships that will last long after your fundraising campaign ends.
Don’t develop a savior complex.
Remember what I said about humility and collaboration? If you’ve noticed that you’re putting all of the emphasis and credit on yourself and your work, step back and recognize that you’re not the savior here.
In fact, there’s no hero or victim here. There’s your organization, the people you’re hoping to serve, and the people who play a role in helping you do just that.
When in doubt, look for opportunities to use donor-centric language. You should also look at your internal culture and your team’s workload. Can you find and invest in other resources to save them time and keep them from burning out?
When you look for ways to serve and support others and ask for help, you’re moving away from developing a savior complex. So keep an eye out for ways to do this!
Don’t virtue signal.
The dictionary defines virtue signaling as follows: The action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.
Virtue signaling gives the impression that you’re doing good just so that you look good—and to make sure others know it. That doesn’t sound very authentic, does it?
Our peers and supporters can usually tell if an action is coming from a place of sincerity (or not). As I’ve mentioned, it’s crucial that we come from a place of serving others and not a place of serving our own egos.
Look at your messages and see if there are ways you’re doing this. If you are, rewrite that content ASAP.
Don’t victimize the people you’re working to help.
As I mentioned above, there are no heroes or victims here. One of the worst things you can do is paint the people you’re trying to help as victims. Not only does this contribute to putting yourself in that savior position, but it also dehumanizes the people you’re trying to help.
Yes, they may be the victims of a situation or system, but that doesn’t mean their identity is one of victimhood. One way to avoid this is to tell someone’s story as they would want it told. That means telling the story in a way that provides that person with dignity and gives them an identity that goes beyond the struggles they face.
Now that you know what to look out for, look at your messages and make sure you’re coming from a place of humility—and make sure your team is as well. And remember: None of us is in this alone. When you keep this in mind, you’ll come across as more humble and authentic, which will win hearts and ultimately help you do more good.