The real power of urgency

Urgency is a time-tested technique for fundraising. Turning the urgency dial to “Hot” in times of crises is entirely appropriate and necessary.  After the tsunami in Indonesia, after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, after scores of similar natural disasters, there is critical need for quick, decisive action and resource mobilization.

The interesting thing, though, about this urgency business, is that it has a brief half-life. According to Katya Andresen, COO for Network for Good, these events have a 7-day window to raise money at which time the urgency factor burns out and giving falls off precipitously.

Imagine that: 250,000 die and millions are still suffering and the standard issue human CPU can only process compassion and action for a week.

Of course, the skittish, ADD-modeled media coverage will take the issue off most people’s radar in a week’s time. But there’s a deeper, more meaningful reason for this cause decay: fear. As a long-term motivator, fear has no legs.  A close friend and colleague for many years is visionary physician Dr Dean Ornish. He was the first doctor to prove that you could reverse heart disease (and a host of other chronic diseases) simply through diet and lifestyle choices. No sharp knives. No daily pills. Just words and ideas that inspired behavioral changes.

According to Dr Ornish, after a heart attack people will do anything to improve their lifestyle choices due to this powerful fear of dying.  The sedentary will walk. Type As will meditate. Good old boys will eat vegetables and even cut out meat. But after 3 short months, most will revert back to the diet/lifestyle that they had before their heart attack. Why?  Because denial kicks in and the fear of dying is just too overwhelming to sustain as a daily motivator.

“Fear of dying.” Who wants to live with that every day?

Fear is also an excuse for inaction. The mind is wonderfully adept at justifying doing nothing.  The health and hunger problems in Africa are too big. The environment is too far gone.  What difference would my little gift make?

Yet we still use fear as our lead motivator in our fundraising appeals. Look around your organization: it’s everywhere.  “If this problem (fill in your own blank) ___________ doesn’t get solved, it’s a tragic future for ___________.”

These messages of fear are just too overwhelming for our hearts to sustain. As Dr Ornish is fond of saying, ‘The fear of dying is not sustainable, but the joy of living is.”

Use the joy of living to inspire action. Paint a canvas with the brilliant colors of a new, more abundant world, not the dark, dire possibility of extinction. Inspire your prospects to ignite their own light of urgency. They’ll only do this if they’re confident they can work with you to co-create our future. When urgency is exerted from outside-in they freeze in the winds of helplessness and fear. When it’s lit from within there is an endless reservoir – far beyond 7 days – that will fuel your organization.

When Martin Luther King said “the fierce urgency of now” this is, I am sure, what he meant. That ‘fierce urgency’ needs to be turned on from inside of us and then we’ll act from a place of courage and with clarity of purpose.


Fundraising is not selling

Fundraising is a practice, a craft, characterized at its best by creativity, collaboration and a deep, human connection.  It is about enabling people to discover what is important in their lives, and it is much more about transformation than it is about transactions.

We miss something very important when we are focused on selling people. Selling implies that money is the most important part of the relationship.   When money is at the center of the relationship, it distracts us from our mission because we are worried that we won’t have enough or that we’ll make a mistake.  It sets up a false power dynamic that requires that we talk shell-to-shell.

When we remove this buyer/seller dynamic, we move away from dependence and a relationship that favors one side over the other.  It moves into a place of effortless flowing, growth and discovery, sharing, trust and co-creation.

When we work from here, partnerships become a constant source of renewal and energy.  Metrics and results are no longer used to justify an investment, so they don’t have to be “spun” or “enhanced.”  Rather, they’re used as a valuable tool for understanding, for knowledge, a resource for wise future decision-making and an inspiration for action.