I’ve just spent three days presenting at the AFP Toronto Congress. This is a great conference with speakers from all over the world. All these people bring different experiences and insights and observations. But, of course, there are commonalities because there is a shared body of knowledge. Otherwise we couldn’t call this a profession.
Donors are heroes: Over and over – during the conference and in my own work – I am reminded that donors are our heroes. Without donors, how can vision happen? Without donors, how can we save kids and families? Without donors, how can we save the whales, and ensure clean air, and gaze in awe as dancers float across the stage? Without donors, how can we pay the people who do the work to make the change?
Donors are our heroes, the heroes of philanthropy. The donor is a major star in your organization’s movie. Yes, of course, your clients are stars, too. Sure, your staff have starring roles. But without donors, there is no movie!
But sometimes some organizations get confused: They see donors as bank accounts doling out money. Some organizations see fundraising as a transaction that produces money. Sometimes organizations view their donors rather possessively…like you own me! (Check out Leslie Gore’s 1964 song, “You Don’t Own Me.” And keep in mind: You actually don’t own me or any of your donors. We aren’t just one of your many toys. We can go away. Treat us like heroes or we will go away! By the way, check out this great new version of “You Don’t Own Me,” made especially for the U.S. 2012 presidential election.)
All donors are philanthropists: Donors of time or money – no matter the amount – are philanthropists. The word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek “philanthropiea,” the love of humankind. This love extends beyond family and friends. This love translates into voluntary action for the common good, transforming communities and launching social movements.
Donors make change: All these people – donors – uniting through acts of love. It’s pretty amazing.
All we need is love: The Beatles tell us that “all we need is love.” (Watch kids from SOS Children’s Villages singing the Beatles.)
And love is all around: One of my favorite films, “Love Actually,” tells us that love is all around. In the opening credit sequence, Prime Minister Hugh Grant says: “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion [says] that we live in a world of hatred and greed. But I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy. But it’s always there… If you look for it, you’ll see that love is actually all around.”
Donors are our heroes: We have love. All around. Those acts of philanthropic love. Donors give that. Every day. Over and over. Donors are our heroes. It’s past time to make very sure that we recognize and honor and feature those heroes every day over and over and over.
P.S. Check out AFP Toronto Congress tweets about the conference’s closing plenary, “Fundraising Theatre.” A rather extraordinary extravaganza about this marvelous work that we do. You’ll see photos of break dancing and confetti and me in the red suit. And maybe you’ll see Darth and Luke fighting, too.