2 min Read
January 12, 2010

Keeping it Simple in 2010

My twin daughters are about to turn six, so the timing seems right to introduce them to a few basic notions of philanthropy. This year we devoted one night of Hanukah to giving to others rather than to ourselves. The results of our family discussion surprised me, and even reinforced a few of the lessons of positioning I rattle on about regularly in workshops and in my book, Brandraising. Here’s what happened.

I’d kept all the direct mail we’ve received for a few months (roughly 45 pieces of mail) from organizations of all sizes, shapes, and missions. I culled the group down to about 10 organizations I knew I would feel good about supporting and might have missions my kids could connect with. Over family dinner, I tried to explain what each of the organizations does in broad terms- terms a six year old could relate to. “These people help sick kids”, for instance, or “these people build homes for people who don’t have homes”.

Of the 10 organizations, a few of them had missions that were really hard to explain that simply. For instance, while I value and personally support HRC, explaining advocacy, equal rights or even why lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks don’t already have equality was a bigger fish than I could fry in just one night. As it was, my kids had trouble keeping track of all the different missions we discussed (so we ended up drawing little pictograms on the backs of each envelope to help).

After a lot of discussion about what they wanted to support, one of my daughters felt strongly she wanted to help less fortunate people, and quickly zoomed in on City Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, and Children’s Aid Society because she could easily understand how their work helps. My other daughter selected Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, an organization that does terrific work too, because she wants to help sick kids. (We’re making donations to each of these organizations as a result).

As a nonprofit communications consultant, this exercise was much more interesting than I would have expected. It completely reinforced the importance of positioning: being able to boil down what is often complicated work into one simple, big idea that can be easily communicated. In some cases, the work isn’t that simple- but in other cases, organizations who’d sent us year-end appeals had entirely failed to articulate their work or its impact altogether.

In 2010, I wonder if there’s a valuable lesson in all of this for fundraisers. How can your organization explain itself in the simplest possible terms and make a case for support? If you had to explain what you do to a six year old, could you? And would they be inspired to make a gift?