As we said from the start, we couldn’t stop after the first “collection”.
Because certain remarks not only recur, they are symptoms: not of a disease exactly (or at least not of a disease in a GP’s handbook), but certainly of a state of mind, of an approach to being “a non-profit organisation” that is particularly common among people in senior management.
So extrapolating them and putting them into a container helps to build up a case manual you can turn to when necessary, and can be useful for construction or reconstruction.
Naturally, the theme of “financial sustainability”, and one’s own role with respect to the rest of the world, is a core topic for conversation, dialogue and discussion.
On this point, when you’re involved in fundraising, a central question you need to be able to answer is
“why should a supporter (big or small) give you their money?”
There is a set of answers and comments, which, allowing for some variations in style and vocabulary, have proved reasonably successful and so have become “memorable”.
“You have to support us. We’re something unique”
So what? The fact that an organisation is something unique leads me to make two observations: are we sure we really are “unique”?, in other words, has anyone ever bothered to conduct a sort of market survey or context analysis that has produced a reliable result? Or does the usual presumption of primogeniture and difference convince each one of these “N” offspring that they are an only child?
Moreover: are we sure that being “unique” is necessarily a virtue? Might we not be unique because the area or the way in which we work are of relative interest or necessity and have a negligible impact? These questions aren’t malicious, let’s call them security questions.
“I don’t understand why they don’t support us, given everything we’ve done over the years. Our importance is obvious”.
I don’t know if this importance is so obvious. But a reason why an individual or an institution doesn’t support us has to be found. It might be because in the end, our importance is relative, and fails to trigger anything apart from a certain appreciation. It happens.
Or it might be because no one has ever remembered, or never dared, to ask for support.
Doing great things and doing them well is not in itself an automatic generator of donations. And explicitly asking for support doesn’t diminish our self-esteem or the significance of what we do: it’s simply a way to let people know that we can do these marvellous things all together. Us and anyone who wants to be with us.
If we barricade ourselves in the golden tower of the best, waiting for homage to be paid to us, we are destined for solitude.
Also, especially as regards foundations and institutions:
“If they don’t support us, we’ll close. We’re exceptional, if they don’t understand that, it means they don’t have the sensitivity to do so”.
I heard that remark again recently.
It was somewhere between a threat (to whom?) and a rather presumptuous retaliation: you should know that if you don’t do something obvious and right – give me the money that’s due to me because I’m the best – I’ll be forced to close and you won’t have me any longer.
But if I were to come to you, the president who made this remark, and say the same thing to you in the same tone, I think your reaction would be one of the following:
– a cheque accompanied by profuse apologies for not having given it to me sooner
– a shrug of your shoulders and a “good luck” with my new adventures
– a “forceful” invitation to ask myself some questions and give myself some answers
Statistically speaking, I would opt for the third reaction, or if I’m very luck for the second.
Clearly, there’s a recurring theme here: the famous “curse of knowledge”, which leads us to assume that everyone knows what we do as well as we do ourselves, without our explaining it to them, combined with a “presumption of excellence”, which indicates a flourishing ego and a belief in one’s own capabilities, but is not necessarily a quality on which “to build relationships”.
An organisation is also an “organism”, a body of people with a personality based on the personality of the people who work there and manage it: this is its strength, but it can be a weakness.
One of the gifts that I think enables people, and so organisations too, to improve and grow is humility, together with a healthy dose of objectivity.
On this point, I take my cue and advise others to start from the words of Alejandro Jodorowsky to build a more articulated and less unilateral relationship with the world around us: “humility means ceasing to defend your beliefs and prove to others that you have a right to be alive”.