What Fundraisers Can Learn From Emily Esfahani
I returned from the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s “2018 Washington Nonprofit Conference” on Friday evening, and I wanted to share some of what I learned from the very start of the event.
We listened to our first keynote speaker at breakfast: Emily Esfahani Smith, author of “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters.” She spoke about the pursuit of meaning being more important than the pursuit of happiness. To summarize her hour-long presentation, she said that meaning was dependent on four pillars in our lives:
Belonging involves leading a life of love, valuing others for who they are and being valued by others for who you are—by family, friends, colleagues, those with whom we share any transactions (even business ones).
Purpose is using your strengths to serve others—something for which to live. A woman who cleans the bedpans in a hospital defined her purpose as helping to heal others.
Transcendence is the experience of feeling connected to a higher reality. This could be achieved through religion, spirituality—through nature, art or any other experience that elevates the spirit. Research has found that when someone has an experience of transcendence that their response to others is kinder, more generous, more sympathetic.
Storytelling refers to the story that you tell yourself about yourself. Emily told the story of an athlete who became paralyzed through an injury. The story he first told himself was, “My life was great, and now, it’s horrible.” With time, he confessed that before his accident his life was hollow —he was selfish, pleasure seeking, shallow—but now his life was filled with purpose. “I am a better man,” he said.
These revelations were not only useful and inspiring for us personally, but, as a fundraiser, I immediately saw how relevant these ideas could be in our relationship with our donors.
I want us all to ask ourselves:
- Are we giving our donors the sense of belonging described above? Do we offer them genuine friendship or a feeling of being part of a family? Do they understand that we value them not just for what they give, but for who they are? When visitors come into our building, do we give them a warm welcome?
- Do we massage and increase their sense of purpose by letting them know how their generosity makes a real difference in the fulfillment of our missions? Do we communicate to them the level of impact for which they are directly responsible? Do we properly and sincerely express gratitude for their love and generosity in a timely manner?
- Are we giving our donors transcendental experiences by the sharing of our stories, our prayers, our talents and ourselves with them?
- Are we loving our donors so well that when they are telling themselves their own stories our organizations will play an important role in that narrative?
- As leaders of our organizations, are we willing to apply these ideas to our employees?
I believe that if we were to make this effort in an energetic, passionate and sincere manner, we would end up with a more content and productive staff, and donors whose commitment, affection and loyalty to our organizations would elevate our missions to greater heights.