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After (many) years on this planet I have come to believe people are inherently generous. People want to help, and today’s society presents thousands of ways to step up. That’s the good news and the bad news.

This human trait is put on display most elegantly when disaster strikes. The Japan tsunami, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Haiti earthquake and the Boston Marathon bombing brought out the best in us and revealed our nation’s and the world’s philanthropic DNA.

These events touch our hearts as well as get our adrenaline surging, so much so that people who don’t normally make charitable contributions, step up and do so for the first time. This was perhaps first seen when Katrina hit and the images of destruction and human suffering were inescapable. If you believe, as I do, that giving feels good to the donor, then those first-time donors to Katrina are more likely have felt that philanthropic feeling and remain contributors to other causes. There is some data to suggest this has happened.

Abraham Lincoln perhaps encapsulated this phenomena best when he said “to win a man to your cause you must reach his heart, the great high road to his reason.” Indeed, disasters and urgent need are the fast-track to the heart and provide a window for us to understand the human urge to give.

This phenomenon is perhaps the strongest argument for you to demonstrate why your fundraising initiative or campaign is “urgent”. Urgency does stimulate adrenaline and adrenaline does open the heart to possibilities beyond the normal.

On the flip side, Katrina and Sandy giving also showed us that it is hard to spend the bulk of the contributed funds on the urgent need. Some of the well publicized stories of relief agencies still holding millions of dollars in relief aid makes those paying attention a bit more skeptical about giving the next time. This points to how important it is for organizations to communicate to their donors how and when their contributions were used, and who benefited.

The value of the adrenaline rush will take the thoughtful philanthropist just so far, and then their rational mind will emerge. Advancement officers need to be effective at demonstrating urgency and fulfilling promises for urgent action.

Your takes:

1. Be a student of human nature to glean lessons for your work.

2. Find ways to demonstrate the urgency of your mission and opportunities.

3. Keep your donors close and informed to keep their warm feelings alive and reflected onto your organization.


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