I am a do-gooder. I am part Non-Profit Hero. I am also part Sidekick. The Non-Profit Hero in me needs to raise funds for a microfinance organization. He projects a “can do” attitude. He exudes confidence and displays enthusiasm for his “making a difference” work. The Sidekick in me understands the very limited role he plays in ending someone else’s material poverty. Sometimes, he even wonders whether he should play a role at all. For years, the Non-Profit Hero dominated my understanding of things. His voice carried more weight. He influenced how I communicated my work to others. Nowadays, the Sidekick reigns supreme. This is how I want things to be. This is how I think things should be. However, maintaining Sidekick Supremacy is a constant struggle. And, nothing makes it more challenging than having to write a fundraising letter to donors. Let’s listen in on the duel of dialogue between my Non-Profit Hero and Sidekick parts as they attempt to do just that.
“”According to the Perfect Fundraising Letter we are supposed to grab the reader’s attention in the introduction. Let’s open with a story. Remember that one client who used our loan to pay for her child’s emergency medical care? We can use her story” the Non-Profit Hero tells the Sidekick.
“We were not the only source of funding in that case. In general, our clients also turn to family, friends, and neighbors in times of crisis. We were just one of many avenues of support. You know this.” the Sidekick admonishes him.
“Just have to think of something else” the Sidekick says.
“A powerful quote!” the Non-Profit Hero exclaims. “It’ll just take a quick Google search of social just quotes…Here we go…Gandhi… too predictable…Mother Theresa…she comes with a bit of baggage…Che Guevara…don’t want to come across as a socialist…Nelson Mandela…seems too opportunistic…Martin Luther King… An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…”
“I have an Ivan Illich quote” the Sidekick interrupts. “I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb out mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.”
“Are you *&#$ing kidding me?” the Non-Profit Hero asks in amazement. “Let’s move on. We’ll come back to this part after you’ve come to your senses.”
“In this section, we are supposed to leave people with the impression that it is absolutely critical that you continue to do what you do” the Sidekick reads out.
“Let’s go with some confidence-boosting declarations of our poverty fighting powers like…Every night I think of new ways to tackle poverty!” the Non-Profit Hero blurts out.
“You never had to solve your own poverty. Why do you believe you know how to solve someone else’s?” the Sidekick ripostes.
“Ouch! All right…can we at least talk about the number of loans we have given, our repayment rate, the number of clients we serve, or our expansion into new communities?” the Non-Profit Hero pleads.
“These are just outputs. They tell us nothing about our clients and their movements in and out of poverty” the Sidekick replies.
“Can we share a client success story?” the Non-Profit Hero asks in desperation.
“Even if our clients are realizing success, what can we claim?” the Sidekick inquires. “We give loans. We teach classes. We hold a business plan competition. That is all we do. In good conscience, I cannot claim anything else. Can you?” the Sidekick asks.
“But, it says right here that we need to make our donors feel that we are important and crucial” the Non-Profit Hero replies.
“I understand. However, by claiming too much, we give our donors the impression that our clients are not important and crucial in the struggle to end their own poverty” the Sidekick retorts.
“If we do not trumpet our poverty fighting prowess, then we will have no donors. Without donors we will have no money. And, without money we will shut down! Let’s move on the next section” the Non-Profit Hero demands.
“In the closing we are supposed to reinforce why you need their help and what the consequences are of not acting” the Sidekicks says.
“No shelter. No water. No food. No medical care. No school uniforms. These are the dire consequences if our donors do not act!” the Non-Profit Hero cries out.
“Some may go without one or more of these things; but, only temporarily. They were making ends meet long before our arrival. They will continue to do so if we ever leave” the Sidekick comes back.
“You don’t get it. We need to make our donors feel important. We need to make them feel indispensible. We need some good old do-gooder histrionics!” the Non-Profit Hero angrily responds.
“Yes, our donors are important. But, I will not participate in the perpetuation of a false development narrative. I will not peddle what so many of our politicians, celebrities and billionaire philanthropists peddle. Namely, that the poor are powerless without us. Namely, that the poor are waiting for us to save them. Namely, that solutions to poverty can only come from outside of a poor community. Namely, that if we do nothing then they will all die. Namely, that we are the *$%&ing generation that will end poverty. Do you know how many times we have been sold that line over the years? I remember being told that malarkey while holding hands with hundreds of other people singing “We are the World” on a cold Ohio morning. We were making a human chain around the world” the Sidekick rants and rants.
“We’re not going to write this letter are we?” the Non-profit Hero asks.
“Wanna take a shot of Elmer’s?”
“Yep…And, I dislike the message but I still love that song especially that part when the Boss chimes in. But, if you tell anyone I will give you one hell of a spandex wedgie.”
Who reigns supreme in your personal do-gooder universe? The Sidekick or the Hero?
Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (www.shawnhumphrey.com)
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