Escaping the Grip of Callousness
Some synonyms for callous are heartless, unfeeling, coldhearted, uncaring, insensitive, unsympathetic, cold and pitiless. These are pretty strong words. And that is what I want them to be as I talk to you about how the heart of a major gift officer (MGO) can get calloused and about how we all can get calloused as we get captured by the routine of major gift work and the routine of life, and can become shielded from the pain and hurt of good people in our world—a planet that is suffering because of our neglect.
I want to talk about how this callousness reduces us to mere cogs in a fundraising machine vs. the caring individuals we want and need to be. And then I want to share with you how to deal with this very common dynamic in the life of a MGO.
I became aware of how this happens when one day, upon reflection, I found myself more preoccupied with getting stuff done than really being in touch with the people we were organized to serve.
My attention had drifted off the main thing to securing personal and professional objectives. And when I say “the main thing,” I mean the commitment I had made to helping others—to being in touch with their situation, their pain, their hurt and then doing something about that. I had moved off of that core focus.
It is easy to do, which is why the phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” applies here.
While I don’t consider myself a heartless cold-hearted person, and you probably don’t think of yourself that way either, I can see how easily I can move from my heart and others to my head and myself, which is why I have a rule I follow to make sure I routinely escape the grip of callousness.
Here’s my rule:
At least once a week, I make sure I get in touch with the pain and hurt of others, especially those who we serve.
I often said this to our employees in the direct marketing firm we had, and I say it now to our associates in this company: “At least once a week, let your heart be broken by the condition of humankind and our planet.”
When spreadsheets, meetings, plans, policies, protocols, goals and performance divert our attention from the hurting child, the person gripped by drugs, the lonely senior living alone whose family has abandoned her, the homeless person, the patient suffering from a terrible disease, the starving family, a forest that has been destroyed or the lake that has been polluted, a relationship that has been broken—when our gaze and our hearts move from the tragedy around us to a focus on us and our stuff, we are on the path to callousness. And we must escape its grip.
A year ago, Jeff and I were driving from Philadelphia to New Hampshire to speak at the New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy Conference.
I had just learned the evening before our trip that a 50-year old friend of mine had lost his battle with cancer and passed away. He was a good man. A gentle giant who, try as he might, could not find a solution to this treacherous disease that would not let go of him.
As we were driving through the Massachusetts countryside, I called his wife to express my condolences and care. She was trying to be strong, but I could tell that, even with all her preparation, the loss of her good husband had dealt its blow. And I was immediately transported into her pain. I finished my call and just sat there and cried while Jeff drove. He was a comfort to me, for which I was grateful. And the experience reminded me again that we are broken and are hurting people, and I need to stay in touch with that fact.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not some morose, dark-focused individual. Nor am I suggesting that you should constantly live with a steady diet of the problems and hurts of our world. No. But I am suggesting that at least once a week, you need to get close to the person or cause you serve to feel the pain, the hurt and the hopelessness, so that you can remember why you are doing your work.
So, stop right now and commit yourself to go be with a person your organization helps at least once a week. Or if you are working with a nonprofit that helps animals or the environment, then go to the animal shelter or go to a place where the environment is being abused. Go there and feel it. Sit with it and let the callousness lose its grip.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.