My father died last week.   I rarely share personal details and especially not this personal.  I’m doing so now because he was a donor, though he’d never refer to himself that way.

That begs the question of whether the “donor” label is so superficial as to be not only useless but counterproductive.  What if part of the reason our sector has so little understanding of our supporters is because we think we’ve done the work of understanding by slapping the activist, volunteer, donor (insert other generic label here) on people?

He was a father who gave to the local parks and recreation because his kids played sports and benefited greatly from the experience.

He gave to the library because we spent valuable time there as kids and he went on to read to children there as an empty nester.

He gave to child sponsorship charities because of his Parent Identity.

He went to three universities as a student and never gave them a dime.  Why?  They rarely asked and when they did, they used their similarly weak Identity – Alumnus – and an even weaker rationale, annual fund.

He gave a substantial amount to a university, the one where he taught for 35 years.  His connection to that University ran deep as a Professor and equally, a rabid sports fan.  Those two Identities and his intrinsic connection were the motivating force for giving, not the weak-tea outreach from the University.

People often give despite the soliciting, not because of it.  If you don’t dig deeper on the why you’ll forever leave money on the table.  And there is no such thing as one ‘why’ for your supporters.  Get to two ‘why’s’, make these your two segments.  Change the journey and comms accordingly and you’ll have undergone a sea change in performance.

A final lesson he can impart.  He was far smarter than I.  He taught graduate level statistics at a University and as a one-man consulting business doing the same for companies.  He had a voracious appetite as a learner.  As smart as he was, his greatest strength was his humility in knowing the vastness of what he didn’t know.

The number of consultants in this fundraising profession parading around with a thimble full of knowledge and mistaking it for an ocean is vast.  Have some humility.  There is always someone smarter.  What you don’t know will always dwarf what you do.  Learn more, dig deeper.


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