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A blog for nonprofit leaders featuring fresh voices, perspectives, strategies, and news about the relational work of fundraising that inspires abundant, sustainable, and meaningful philanthropy.

  • Otto Reinisch

Reclaiming the Soul of Fundraising in a Digital Age of Diminishing Humanity

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

In a digital age of diminishing humanity, where online connections – clicks, likes, and views – increasingly take the place of authentic human relationships, the relational work of fundraising is under siege. ‘Smart’ phones, email, and apps demand – and all-too-willingly receive – our attention; technology that promises to draw us closer together drives us further apart; isolation and loneliness are on the rise while empathy and authenticity decline.

What’s at stake? The very soul of our profession that depends on mutual trust earned through authentic human relationship.

Today, more leaders find the allure of online fundraising success hard to resist. Although a vibrant presence in today’s digital world is essential, nonprofit organizations settle for so little whenever online activity takes the place of fundraising’s relational work done in person, over time, and around shared values.

“Human relationships are rich, messy, and demanding,” writes author, Sherry Turkle, “(but) when we clean them up with technology, we move from conversation to the efficiencies of mere connection. What is the value of an (online) interaction that contains no shared experience of life and contributes nothing to a shared store of human meaning – and indeed may devalue it?”

Whereas online fundraising increasingly is delegated to experts, everyone in the organization has a role in fundraising’s relational work and it’s the lay person - board member, volunteer, client – whose efforts often shine brightest. Here, success belongs to all those who use shared storytelling in the context of authentic human relationships to do something for donors hard to accomplish on their own: breathe life into the deeply held values, beliefs, and aspirations that make a donor’s philanthropy meaningful.

“This is our time,” Turkle continues, “to acknowledge the unintended consequences of technologies to which we are vulnerable, to respect the resilience that always has been ours. We have time to make the corrections. And to remember who we are – storytelling creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships. Of conversations artless, risky, and face-to-face.”

The relational work of fundraising will give today’s nonprofit organizations what they need most: to fully engage the hands and hearts of board members in fundraising, to help professionals flourish in their proper roles, and – most importantly – to inspire generosity that is abundant, sustainable and – above all – meaningful.

The digital age is here to stay and, with it, brings much good. However, it’s time to “acknowledge (its) unintended consequences” in fundraising. By learning and mastering the relational perspectives, skills, and practices that distinctly make us human we also can - and will - reclaim what makes our work meaningful.

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