Urgency is a time-tested technique for fundraising. Turning the urgency dial to “Hot” in times of crises is entirely appropriate and necessary. After the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami in Japan, after scores of similar natural disasters, there is critical need for quick, decisive action and resource mobilization.
A curious thing about this urgency business, though, is that it has a brief half-life. Statistically, these events generally have a 7-day window to raise money. After day 7, the urgency factor burns out and giving falls off precipitously.
Imagine that: many hundreds of thousands of people die and millions are still suffering and the standard issue human CPU can only process compassion and action for a week.
Of course, the skittish, ADD-modeled media coverage will also take the issue off most people’s radar in a week’s time. But there’s a deeper reason for this cause decay: fear. As a long-term motivator, fear has no legs. A close friend and colleague for many years is visionary physician Dr Dean Ornish. He was the first doctor to prove that you could reverse heart disease (and a host of other chronic diseases) simply through diet and lifestyle choices. No sharp knives. No daily pills. Just words and ideas that inspired behavioral changes.
According to Dr Ornish, after a heart attack people will do anything to improve their lifestyle choices due to this powerful fear of dying. The sedentary will walk. Type A’s will meditate. Good old boys will eat vegetables and even cut out red meat. But after 3 short months, most will revert back to the diet/lifestyle that they had before their heart attack. Why? Because denial kicks in and the fear of dying is just too overwhelming to sustain as a daily motivator.
“Fear of dying.” Who wants to live with that every day?
Fear is also an excuse for inaction. The mind is wonderfully adept at justifying doing nothing. The health and hunger problems in Africa are too big. The environment is too far gone. The education system is beyond fixing. What difference would my little gift make?
Yet we still use fear as our lead motivator in our fundraising appeals. Look around your organization: it’s everywhere. “If this problem (fill in your own blank) ___________ doesn’t get solved, it’s a tragic future for ___________.”
These messages of fear are just too overwhelming for our hearts to sustain. As Dr Ornish is fond of saying, ‘The fear of dying is not sustainable, but the joy of living is.”
Use the joy of living to inspire action. Paint a canvas with the brilliant colors of a new, more abundant world, not the dark, dire possibility of extinction. Inspire others to ignite their own light of urgency. They’ll only do this if they’re confident they can work with you to co-create our future. When urgency is exerted from outside-in they freeze in the winds of helplessness and fear. When it’s lit from within there is an endless reservoir – far beyond 7 days – that will fuel your organization.
On Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday. Dr. King called the light of possibility burning inside us: “the fierce urgency of now.” That ‘fierce urgency’ is a beacon, guiding us to act from a place of courage, long after 7 days.