Thursday, August 8, 2013

What It Takes To Open Your Wallet

From the days when I carried around a UNICEF box during Halloween as a kid, to buying a Street Sense from the same homeless guy each week, the act of donating money, and collecting donations, has always proved confounding. There are so many things to care about, but no way to reach them all. And there's always the added confusion of accountability and impact.

But a recent 'fundraiser' made me realize what it takes to have someone actually donate their hard-earned cash, and do it with joy. The lessons I took away from the experience also fit perfectly with what I learned from Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, which I'm kind of obsessed with this year.

A college friend of mine sent out a private Facebook invite to a group of maybe 50 people, asking us to give a monetary gift for another friend's birthday so that he could travel to a sacred spot that was significant in both his personal life and ongoing study of religion.

The response was immediate: people were posting that they had donated, and urging their friends to join in. It was personal, sweet, and a kind of instant community built around our mutual respect for him and this trip. I'm not close friends with this guy, but I donated a small amount of money with no hesitation.

Within a few days the goal was not only reached, but surpassed, and the friend who had organized the whole thing put up a glorious video of the birthday boy's reaction to the posts, messages and money for the trip. It was warm and fuzzy to the nth degree.

Having seen the beauty and efficiency of this process, I started to identify what made this different than all the Save the Children campaigns we pass by every day, at the grocery story, or the Facebook posts about friends running for cancer. 

1) The goal was clearly defined. We knew exactly where our money was going, and who would be using it. Trying to put a dollar amount on top of a huge initiative like women's empowerment doesn't exactly give you a picture, or too much confidence, that your small contribution could make a difference. In this case you knew exactly how much you could impact the situation.

2) The outreach was targeted, limited and relevant. You know spectator's syndrome? Where everyone in a crowd sees someone get hurt by doesn't do anything about it because they diffuse responsibility? I feel like that's how it is with some campaigns. My friend was smart enough to make a closed group that included only people he knew had some sort of attachment or emotion connected to the 'cause'. When there are a limited number of people, they know they have to rise up to the occasion.

3) Emotional connection. Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, attracted lots of attention when he decided to suddenly support gay marriage after his son, Will, came out. A lot of times it takes that moment of humanization -- that friend with cancer, the sweet rescue dog, to feel the weight of a cause. In this case, it was a friend that makes it so easy to love and respect him because of his quietly passionate way of living. The connection was immediate, so the reaction was too.

4) End game. Seeing our friends face light up was more than enough pay back for the donation. But even if you give selflessly, without needing a return on your investment, that moment is so fulfilling and necessary to come full circle. Some organizations have tried to do that by providing pictures of the child you are supporting, but it needs to be stronger, and more consistent. It can't be a one way street.

So, anyhow, this is my recipe for how to make people give you money. In a world with such stark differences in resources, maybe this will help someone.

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