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Today I want to talk about love.

Specifically about growing the love of your donors.

Because I believe we need to actually change the way we talk about donors, giving and love. Instead of asking, “how can we get donors to give?” or even “how can we build relationships with donors?”, we need to be asking “how we can grow the love of our donors?”

Part of the problem is that a lot of current fundraising practice is actually adapted from marketing practice.

A lot of what we call relationship fundraising is rooted in marketing. Relationship fundraising came from the idea of relationship marketing. We talk about the customer experience and journeys which we’ve translated into donor experience and donor journeys. We talk about the value exchange for customers and question what is the value exchange for donors. We use scales that measure customer satisfaction and trust and adapted that to measure donor satisfaction, trust and commitment.

I’m not saying we should throw all that out. But the reality is that a lot of traditional donor-centred fundraising is based on the psychology of buying, ie. how can we get donors to give, not the psychology of giving, which is about loving others.

In fact, the word “philanthropy” relates specifically to the love of humankind.

Instead of a consumer mindset, I’d encourage charities to start approaching fundraising from a giving mindset.

Instead of a transactional mindset where we focus only on what motivates a donor to donate, we focus instead on a heart-based mindset which is about who the donor is and what is in their identity that prompts them to love others – which includes a decision to donate.

How would that then affect your fundraising messages?

One possible change is to look at the difference between compassionate love and companionate love as outlined by Jen Shang from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy. Here I’ve adapted an example she very generously shared at a recent workshop on The Art & Science of Donor Love.

Compassionate love is the love we have sacrificially, unconditionally, altruistically, communally and truly. It is the love which has the potential to be extended to out-group members. Companionate love is the love that we have for family and friends (i.e. our in group). Reproduced from Jen Shang.

Under compassionate love, donors are motivated to give by seeing other people suffering. This is a negative motivation to help. This type of love is often directed at out groups – or people who are “not like us”.

Then we have companionate love, which refers to the love we have for family and friends. This is motivated by feeling closeness, warmth and connection. We would almost never say no to helping our dearest family and friends. So if we see people we love in trouble, we help them because they are part of our lives. That’s a positive motivation to help. This type of love is often directed at in groups – people who are “like us” or “part of our community”.

Which type of love do you think is a stronger motivator for giving? Especially at this time in society when people are being polarised into “us” and “them” groups. The more you can encourage donors to view the people they’re helping as “like us”, the stronger the connection you can make and the higher the likelihood of a donation.

Here’s another way of looking at it. You know that saying “Charity begins at home”? And the idea that we should help people in our own country first before we help others overseas? (I detest that proverb but I won’t go into that here.) Take a look at the diagrams below.

How we classify the people we want to help.  On the left, a series of concentric circles. Starting from the innermost circle: home, neighbours, my country, rest of world. On the right a single circle which includes ALL of the following: home, neighbours, country, rest of the world

In the left diagram is the order of priority of the people we want to help. No judgment here – it’s a reality that the people you love at home you’ll always prioritise in terms of giving. They will always be the centre of your giving universe, your primary “in group”. Then come your neighbours, people that you know within your community who probably are quite a lot like you. Then the people in your country, usually of the same cultural background to you. Then there’s the rest of the world.

But what if you encourage the removal of all the divisions as per the diagram on the right and make everyone part of your in group? What if you feel these far removed people from the rest of the world are part of your family?

You move from compassionate to companionate love. Again, which one do you think is stronger for raising funds? Which one do you think helps donors to love others better? How can we change our fundraising messages to reflect this?

I’m not saying compassionate love is in any way bad or wrong. Lots of effective appeals have been written using compassionate love. But I do think that removing the unconscious divisions in the donor’s mind can only increase their connections with beneficiaries – and we know connection with others is a strong driver of donor wellbeing. That can only be a good thing for fundraising.

Another benefit of this change in mindset is that it can help address the ongoing debate about saviourism. Using companionate love in fundraising gives us the power to change people’s perceptions of beneficiaries. We can shift from portraying beneficiaries as “out groups” in need to being part of donors’ “in-groups”. So the dynamic of donors’ giving shifts from being a saviour to helping one of their own family/ community. This also helps to reduce the problem of “othering” in a way that is both donor-centred and beneficiary-centred. If you portray beneficiaries as an out group, you can only grow compassionate love, not companionate love.

Take a look at your fundraising messages and try to identify whether you’re using compassionate or companionate love. Would love to hear how you go!

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