Inputs and Outcomes

In the April 1, 2017 edition of The NonProfit Times, Mark Hrywna writes about the challenges and opportunities large nonprofit organizations face in keeping employees engaged and feeling valued.  In the article, Hrywna quotes Harry Johns, the President and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association as follows:

“The thing that’s most critical is engaging people in a real way and paying attention to the input.” (emphasis added).

Mr. Johns was talking about the process of consolidating 81 Alzheimer’s Association chapters and 48 stand-alone affiliates into a single national entity.  He was referring to the variable in that process most important to their success.

As I read and re-read the quote, I thought about the various circumstances in which the “most critical” variable “is engaging people in a real way and paying attention to the input.”  One such circumstance immediately came to mind:  Inviting donors to make gifts.  But, in many instances, we don’t focus on the inputs, we focus far more on the outcomes of the gift.

It is not uncommon for whole gift proposals to be focused on how the gift will make a difference, the data to support the notion that this difference is important, and ways in which the gift will create a new reality of some sort.  And while all of this outcomes talk is important, it is not the most critical.

The most critical aspect of the giving equation is paying attention to the input!  Listening is the critical skill.  Telling the story back to the donor is merely important.  And, in the best cases, telling the story serves as a confirming activity to show evidence that you were, in fact, listening in the first place.

As development professionals we spend an awful lot of time focused on “making the case,” which myopically has come to mean, “show evidence and outcomes” of why gifts are needed.  Perhaps, though, we need to be reminded that the “case for support” only finds its real vibrancy when it is steeped in the interests, values, and generous impulses of the donor.

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