People give to children and cancer

By: Hannah Bone   |   Global Philanthropic

So often have I heard that phrase, perhaps offered as a reason - or as an excuse - as to why it’s hard to raise money for other causes. As someone who has made a career out of raising funds for tertiary education and the arts, I’ve had to battle the “children and cancer” naysayers a fair bit.

The thing is, I know that children and cancer-related causes work just as hard and in many cases, harder, as other types of organisations seeking the donor dollar. For the most part, they happen to be really good at telling their story in a way that donors find compelling and this helps them A LOT. So from this, what can we emulate in our own organisations to maximize our fundraising successes?

Well, for me it boils down to this: vitality (or as I like to think of it: the gift of life), empathy and urgency. These are the core ingredients for a compelling case for support that unlocks the hearts, minds (and yes, wallets) of donors. So it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination as to why the children and cancer-related causes are naturally a step ahead of some other non-profits – eradicate cancer and you’re giving the gift of life to millions worldwide; improve conditions for children NOW and you are returning to them their right to childhood and a better life ahead. And those are arguments I find pretty compelling as a person who may one day get cancer and as a parent of young children. However, my own giving spans a range of organisations: refugee aid, education, arts organisations and health are those that I tend to favour. In every instance of my giving I’ve been compelled to give because I see that the organisation in question is giving the gift of life (vitality) to its beneficiaries and the organisation has expressed this in a way that is RELEVANT TO ME.

Right, so what does that mean for you struggling to express the case for support for your organisation? May I ask you to do something? Can you think for a moment about a beneficiary of your organisation – it may be a student, a participant, a volunteer, a member of the public who benefits from the services that your organisation provides, a patient or a carer. Think about that moment when their face radiates happiness because of something that your organisation has done for them. Also think about how much of themselves they put into being a part of, or a participant of, your organisation (because that often demonstrates how valuable your organisation is to them).  So…are you thinking about a beneficiary whose life has been changed by your organisation? Wouldn’t you say that, in broad terms, your organisation has given them the gift of life – or expressed differently, vitality in its rightful meaning as “capacity for survival or for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence”? Now here’s the trick: bottle that and write it down in a way that is relevant to your prospective donor. Do that, and this becomes the true essence of your organisation’s case for support.

I’ll give you an example that led me to write this blog in the first place. I live in Adelaide, Australia and one of the best performance spaces for classical music here is the Adelaide Town Hall. It has a glorious acoustic and it’s rather pretty inside. But the Adelaide Town Hall has not kept up with the times by way of a lot of modern comforts for its patrons – the best seats in the house are up three flights of stairs and then when you get up to these good seats, there are yet more stairs to tackle. As I was racing up the stairs (on the bell, as always) I was struck by the much older generation and their determination to conquer the stairs to the Dress Circle seats. Their slow, and possibly painful, ascent to the best seats in the house is worth it for them because the concert they are about to enjoy is going to instill them with a vitality that enriches their life and greatly improves their sense of wellbeing.  Given mental health experts estimate that one-third of people aged over 65 have mental health issues for which professional intervention is needed (Smyer & Qualls, 1999), this vitality and sense of wellbeing is important and significant. At the other end of life’s spectrum, I’ve witnessed many times music’s transformative effect on children’s attitudes, determinations and life path. And I’ve told these stories over and over again to donors in a way that is relevant and compelling to them. I’ve applied the same thought process when fundraising for an array of (often difficult to comprehend and more difficult to explain) disciplines and research projects in the tertiary sector: how is the project in question giving the gift of life to its beneficiaries and how can I communicate the relevance of this to my donor?

I mentioned also the importance of urgency for a successful case for support. The word urgent stems from the Latin verb urgere meaning “to press, to drive”: urgent, though an adjective, has a strong sense of doing to it. Urgency is really important in a case for support because it provides a reason for a donor to give to your organisation RIGHT NOW. It is, however, vitality that gives your case for support the power of emotive persuasion.  And finally, without empathy for the position, thoughts and feelings of a donor, your case for support is irrelevant.

References: Smyer, M.A. & Qualls, S. H. (1999). Aging and mental health. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Nov. 08, 2016

Philanthropy Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to our weekly e-newsletter for sector news, expert opinion and resources.

Sign up here