“When the great leader’s work is done the people say – we did that ourselves!” – Lao Tsu
Once upon a time, people got together to change the world. They formed a charity to get more people involved, which grew into a big professional Organisation. “We know what’s best, leave it to us”, it said. People gave lots of money. The Organisation grew bigger and felt important. It forgot about the people and why they cared. It had work to do. The people felt less involved. They didn’t know what The Organisation did anymore. So one day, they went to find something else they could do to change the world.
Therein lies the challenge. How do you maximise popular support when people are individuals and want to feel they are doing their bit themselves. How many charities talk about creating mass movements, building awareness and growing support? How much of that essentially serves the institutional imperative to exist, with strategic plans to double income in five years, but without much vision beyond organisational growth, and little sense of what really matters to people? Feeding the Beast is not a motivating proposition.
The first rule of dating is don’t talk about yourself, talk about what the other person is interested in. We’re in the relationship business, so take heed. It’s not you or what you do that interests people. It’s the feeling they are making a difference themselves. Are people interested in the rights-based approach to international development, the principles of capacity building and understanding the structural causes of poverty? Generally, no. They care about people, and helping them do better in life. Are people interested in the intricacies of medical research projects and the quality of advice and information services? Generally, no. They care about alleviating the suffering of people, especially when they’ve witnessed it themselves, and finding cures. Are they interested in what your Chief Exec thinks about the price of milk? Who?
So put the supporter back in charge. Help them feel connected to the mission they care about with real tangible stories that make it personal to them. Encourage participation, make it fun. Take people there and show them the difference they are making directly. Technology makes this possible, it’s the institutional mindset that gets in the way. And don’t just thank people for their gift. Congratulate them.
Remember, it’s not about you.
Matthew is one of our beloved leaders. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the charity sector so he knows his stuff.