I should start with a disclaimer: I’ve never actually read the famous relationship guide Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. However, I’ve had enough conversations about the book to understand the main point: there are things that men and women do not understand about each other, and these challenges can create tension in the midst of relationships.
While the donor and nonprofit relationship is not nearly as foundational as the struggle between genders, it is still rife with the same kinds of misunderstanding and confusion. At one level, there is a great desire to partner together in order to make something incredible happen in our community. However, in the very next moment, we are struggling to communicate and we grow frustrated with each other.
As someone who has worked for three different nonprofit organizations over the past 14 years, I understand the challenges that organizations face as they passionately pursue their mission and vision. My wife and I frequently wear the donor hat as well. But I don’t really like the word “donor,” so from now on, we’ll use the term “partner.” We give financially and participate regularly with several nonprofit organizations and we love being involved in what they are doing in the Valley and around the globe.
I can recall on multiple occasions asking the same question both of partners and the organizations that we partner with: “What the heck are they thinking?” And you know what? I’m sure others have thought the same of me!
But frustration should not cause us to throw in the towel and ignore the frailties of our community and world. We should not allow misunderstandings to force us into apathy and division. Rather, we should strive to bridge the communication gaps between partners and nonprofits.
This topic is far too big to be fully unpacked here, but I’m hoping these brief observations can start a fruitful conversation between organizations and the people, foundations, and churches that partner with them.
To begin this dialogue, I would like to propose some principles that partners would love to share with nonprofit organizations—and vice versa. So here we go. Here are four things partners would like to say to nonprofit organizations:
1. We want to be educated. Inspiring videos and messages are essential to pique our interest, but don’t leave us there. Before we can ever open our wallet or volunteer our time, help open our mind and heart to the issue that is central to your organization. We are curious about the broad vision and we want to know about some of the nuts and bolts. We want to understand how your organization came to be passionate about this problem. The stats may say that our cultural attention span is lessening, but when we get passionate about a cause, we listen. An investment in education is never wasted. Over the long haul, an educated partner is a more vocal and loyal advocate.
2. Don’t be afraid to give us the hard news. While you may think that we cannot handle news about setbacks and delays, please help us mature by sharing this information with us. We know that working to change lives and transform communities isn’t easy or flawless, so help us understand the difficulties you face as an organization. Our trust and confidence in your work grows exponentially when you are transparent in your communication.
3. We know that partnering with other organizations is hard, so when we see you making an effort, we respect you all the more. While studying in university I always dreaded “group assignments.” These collaborative projects were always messy, time consuming, and confusing. Everyone wanted to get the project done, but the group environment forced us to develop relationships, learn each other’s strengths and gifts, and then create a collaborative strategy for tackling the assignment. It took longer, but the results were richer and I always learned more than I expected. Developing organizational partnerships present a similar challenge. It can be much cleaner and feels more productive to work alone. But when nonprofits develop partnerships, the process slows down and can get messy, but it becomes more fruitful. Working in the context of a partnership requires trust and mutual respect. We appreciate when you pursue partnerships because we know that changing a community takes a community.
4. A thank you has the potential to change everything. A hand-written thank you note for my involvement goes on the fridge, not in the trash. It remains there for weeks or months, reminding me to participate, give, and tell others. It is a beautiful melody, prompting me that my life counts—that my words, resources, and talents can change my community. So please, don’t neglect this invaluable act of relationship.
In my next post, I’ll flip things around and share four pieces of advice that nonprofits would give to partners.
In the meantime, please remember this: we need grace for each other above all else. Impacting families and dealing with the root issues that destroy communities is not easy work. So keep short accounts. Be amiable towards one another, gentle in speech, slow to become angry. After all, injustice and poverty thrive where cynicism and skepticism are left unchecked.
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