We all have our causes.
Those of us who choose a nonprofit career usually do, at least in part, because we want to help make something better or more beautiful.
We’re eager world-changers. And that’s a wonderful thing to be!
Change? Here’s what might work… and what probably won’t
You have a cause or two that mean the world to you. If you’re lucky, you’re working for one of them. And to you, it’s absolutely crucial that other people understand.
But here’s the problem: other people have causes, too. And what matters most to them might not align with what matters to you.
What is the world you need to see?
Let’s start by defining and understanding your passion. Who will benefit if your cause succeeds? Who do you need to persuade to make your vision reality? What is it you understand that you think other people don’t?
And… what are you missing that they understand?
If you don’t know yet how you’ll reach your goals, it’ll be hard to persuade other people to support them. So step one? Make a plan!
(And I get it, I do. I often yell in my head, “THIS IS WRONG! WE MUST CHANGE IT!” But until that feeling is put into action – with a concrete plan – it’s nothing but a feeling.)
The nonprofit world is full of variety
One of the great strengths of our nonprofit sector is that there’s probably an organization (or many) created by or run by people who share your values. (There are also more than enough people eager to start a new nonprofit before looking around, but that’s another topic entirely.)
Chances are good that you – and the other person – can both find ways to support the work that supports your causes.
So that’s great, right? To each, her own!
But to you, your cause is existential. Without everyone understanding its importance, bad things will happen… or continue to happen. You just HAVE to get them to see!
That’s when persuasion is your friend.
Some tips from persuasion science
You may have heard of Dr. Robert Cialdini. His scholarly work is all about persuasion. How do we move people to see our point of view? How do we get people to take the action we want them to take?
If you’re a fundraiser, you’re probably already familiar with his work. We use these principals all the time – not to browbeat or fool people, but to persuade them.
These are all based on how humans think and act. You’ll notice none of these require anger or any sort of aggression. I’ll bet that one or two of these will be useful to you as you persuade people to support your passion.
Reciprocity is simple: we’re drawn to return a favor with a favor. Here’s when your support for someone else’s passion can help move them to support yours as well.
Scarcity describes the way something immediately seems more important if there isn’t much of it. Why is shiny crushed carbon so expensive? There isn’t much of it. Say your cause is climate change… your description of what might be lost if we don’t act immediately may be all that’s needed.
Authority sounds a little uncomfortable. But it’s about who people trust. If you have someone in your circles who already has earned trust from the person or people you’re trying to persuade, their say-so might help.
Consistency matters. Can you secure a small commitment? If you can move people to say yes – even to something very small – they’re more likely to say yes to something bigger. This is where patience – and consistency – can help. One step at a time!
Liking is as simple and human as it sounds. People like people who like them. Remember that old saying about catching more flies with honey, not vinegar? Be kind. Offer sincere compliments. Find common ground and similarities.
Consensus reflects our nature as social creatures. So it’s natural that we often look to a consensus to make decisions. But what if the change you’re seeking is big? Scary, even? What then?
Our tendency when we’re unsure is not to change. To make change, you’ll need to persuade people that NOT changing carries more negative consequences than changing does. We don’t like loss. We’ll do a lot to avoid it.
Working as we
If your tactics are all about what you need to see change, you may find yourself standing alone. But if you can build consensus and make space for change, you’re more likely to succeed.
In our nonprofit world, we tend to think about consensus and building movements. We believe in the causes we care about. But we might wonder about other people and their priorities.
But honestly, there is enough. We don’t need to bend to a scarcity mindset. There is room for my causes and your causes. Because lucky for us, donors like to donate. And people feel good when they do something kind.
That’s for good reason. Giving – time or money – feels good. Thank goodness. It’s built into us, and like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.
I would never tell a donor they’re foolish to give to a cause that’s not mine. (Even if I don’t care for the other cause.) I would tell a donor who wanted to give to something outside of my organization’s mission where they could give. Maybe even make an introduction. That’s an example of good donor care and good community care.
Changing the world is group work
None of us can do it alone, no matter how strong our feelings or how big our personality. And if the change requires funding, these principles are useful.
People who give don’t need to be chided into giving. They will be “educated” only as far as their interest takes them. We don’t need to be condescending. We can try to persuade people to think differently, but we may not always succeed.
Because for reasons that may be personal, some people will not agree with your passion. They have their own. And that’s OK. It really is.
Do the work. Think about the long game. Welcome people with arms open. Let them know that their gifts and time matter – that they matter. Be respectful. Treat people with grace and kindness. And give them time.
You don’t do it overnight. But you can start right now.