Take a normal sized, white-paged flip chart and, with a black magic marker, draw a round, big dot – about the size of your fist. Color it in fully. Now, ask people what they see.
Most everyone will say they see a big, black dot.
Almost no one will say anything about the large white paper on which the dot is drawn.
When you ask those who have a relationship with your institution but who have never or are not currently giving to your institution why they are not giving, one common theme you hear is that there was one person, one incident, one bad experience that serves as the reason for their charitable withdrawal. In this case, the big, black dot becomes a “blot” and they are focusing on it.
Now, in some instances, when non-givers offer up a singular, negative “reason” for their lack of giving, they are engaging in a bit of deception – providing a socially-acceptable answer to cover up for a less-than-generous spirit. For these folks, they simply haven’t reached the point in their life’s journey where they understand the power of giving to enrich their own lives. Hopefully they will get there at some point, but it is not guaranteed.
But for other non-givers, I’m convinced they have focused on a negative experience and allowed it, honestly, to overshadow all of the positive aspects of their relationship with your institution. From their perspective, they believe the single bad thing that happened to them – the “blot” – is reason enough to withdraw support from your institution. In my experience though, this is more of a knee-jerk reaction and not a well reasoned decision.
Part of our work, it seems to me, is to educate, to mentor, to encourage, and remind people that their relationship with your institution has both positive and negative characteristics. And, in most instances, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Yes, you should acknowledge the reality of a past misdeed and offer to provide assistance if that is appropriate. But, in most instances, your institution has been the source of many blessings in the lives of others and you should serve as a gentle reminder of that fact. For instance, because of your institution, they perhaps:
- Met their spouse;
- Were cured, assisted, and/or nursed back to health or watched as a loved one was;
- Established life-long friendships;
- Were provided food, shelter, or other assistance that helped bridge a difficult season of life;
- Expanded their professional networks;
- Were given the opportunity to become educated and learn skills that served as the foundation for a successful life.
You get the point – there are many other positives as well. The “white page” of positive experiences is almost always much larger, more impressive, and influential in a person’s life than is the singular black blot.
In general, all of us should accept the responsibility to remind each other to look past life’s temporal inconveniences and focus on our many broader blessings. And especially as advancement professionals, we should remind others that our institutions are sources of overwhelming goodness. Allowing a prospective donor to go unchallenged when she suggests a singular negative experience has dampened her desire to give is both unprofessional and, at its core, inhumane.