‘Gadgeting’ Ourselves Into Loneliness
It always amazes me when I am in a restaurant with my wife or a friend and see:
- A family at a table, where the kids are busy with their iPads or phones and parents are texting—and no one is talking to each other.
- A couple at another table, where either both of them are texting away, or one is and the other is staring into space.
- Two buddies (I think they’re friends) are buried into their phones, and only a grunt passes between them every three to five minutes.
- Or some guy gabbing away on his phone (yes, in the restaurant), while his wife and their daughter just sit there.
Many of us have allowed our gadgets to grab ahold of us and take us to a different place. And we’ve missed the beauty of the other person who sat across from us; we’ve missed a meaningful conversation that could have happened; or we’ve bypassed an important connection that may have changed the course of our lives.
My wife and I proposed long ago not to allow phones or any electronics at any meal. And I regularly discourage phones on the table at any business meeting. In fact, if I am in the meeting and a person starts writing a text or composing an email, I just stop talking. And when the person looks up I start again.
What has happened to us that we have become so rude and so self-absorbed that we will, through our actions, say to the person or persons at the meal or meeting we are having: “You are not important enough to demand my attention!” It is truly pathetic.
As technology advances, we are becoming more and more isolated and lonely. One researcher has even asserted that the more friends a person has on Facebook, the lonelier they are. And we all intuitively know that a Facebook friend does not really make for a real friend.
All of this points to a couple of realities in our world of major gifts:
1. Most Caseload Donors Long for Authenticity
Real needs. Real reports. Real numbers. Real stories. Real major gift officers (MGOs.) Real conversations. In a new study, Yale University economist Dean Karlan and Clemson University economist Daniel Wood show that large donors respond and need statistical evidence of effectiveness. They want the real story. While this study has a lot of other good material in it, the point here is that to these donors, facts and reality are very important.
But ignore the research for a moment. Tap into your own experience over the last five years. For us, it has become clear that a new generation of donors want to know more detail, they want to know that the promise the nonprofit actually makes is true and they want to know that their money is actually making a difference. You will never get to authenticity hiding behind an iPad or smartphone—nor will the donor really feel like you have connected—which leads me to the next point…
2. Real Relationship and Connection Will Not Happen With Electronics Alone
Now hold on. I know that for many people, including me, email is a wonderful way to communicate. In fact, for me, it is a preference. It is quick, short (it can be) and to the point; plus you can “do it” any time. But over the last few years, I have started to realize that email is no substitute for being in the presence of the other person—the one you want to love, the one you want to love you, the person you want to build relationship with or the donor who has signaled they would like to partner with you in meeting some of the world’s deepest needs.
It is not going to happen electronically. Emails and calls can be a way to have a meaningful connection—in fact, we at Veritus believe that some donors prefer email and calls vs. meeting with the MGO, so it counts as much as a face-to-face connection. But eventually, many of those meaningful connections, properly managed, will migrate to a face-to-face.
3. Donors Really Do Want Some Kind of Relationship
Notice that I am not defining exactly what kind they want; I am simply stating that they want some kind of relationship. The more gadgets take over the lives of our good donors, the more they will long for the real thing. I was with a couple last week whose kids are now out of the house. These good parents have done the right thing in creating independence in their children, but it has come at a price and not without some pain and loneliness. The father said to me: “You know, Richard, on one level, I am so glad my kids are doing well; but they hardly ever come to see us. We get an email and a text here and there, but that’s nothing like having them present in our home, looking into their eyes and feeling the warmth of their hugs.” And then he bowed his head, and I could see him tear up. I was choking up myself.
It is lonely. And this kind of loneliness is happening to all of us and to all of your donors. That is why I find that donors do not want relationship absurd and off point. Now, it is true that there is not one donor on the face of the earth that wants a money-grubbing-reaching-into-my-pocket relationship. But in my professional experience, I have been with all kinds of people—rich, poor, powerful and powerless—and loneliness can be found in each of them.
So, perhaps as a result of this writing, you could propose to reduce the gadget influence in your own personal life and experience life as it should be again.
And then, in your major gift life, maybe you could propose to view your donors differently as well. Maybe you could see them as the parents without kids and feeling alone, the woman who is now alone having suffered the loss of her partner or the retired CEO who now is inactive and also alone.
All of these good donors may have hordes of people around them. But after the noise subsides, and the party has ended, it becomes a dark and lonely place. Perhaps, if you viewed your donors in this way it would give you confidence to reach out and enthusiastically serve their passions and interests in a way they have never experienced before. Wouldn’t that be something? You know it would.
I am not trying to suggest, by sharing these ideas, that any donor is living some pathetic sniveling lonely life. No. I am saying that the effects of our society, its technology and the drive for our kids to become independent and successful is causing a certain loneliness that we should be aware of.
I am also saying that having a bundle of money is not a solution. I was at dinner with some friends last week in Newark, NJ. We were talking about some of the life difficulties each of us had been through. It was pretty amazing and sobering. And then my friend aggressively took hold of the conversation and said: “Look, there is no question that life has been tough, and our stories pale compared to so many others around our world; but listen: We are all we got. It’s these relationships, these conversations, these expressions of compassion and empathy—this is all we have. And money can’t buy it!”
And then he stopped. And I thought: “He’s right. It’s all that anyone of us has.” And I thought of the donors we serve. And the marvelous way we can help them experience joy through their giving. And how we can help fill, to some degree, any loneliness they might experience by turning their attention to helping others.
I was glad I had my cell phone turned off and put away during that dinner. Because I got a lot more out of that exchange than any text or email could have brought me.
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.