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The Currency of Trust and Connection

Two weeks ago, I had the great opportunity of participating as a speaker at the 2016 Philanthropy Miami Conference. As part of the “lightning round” presentations, five of us offered five minute talks about topics such as social entrepreneurship, framing the dialogue with
donors, and venture philanthropy.

I chose the topic ”The Currency of Trust and Connection”. Today, non-profits have to concern themselves with how our customers—the donors we’ve engaged and those we want to—invest all of their currency. And by currency, I mean their time, their trust and their money.

Today, people are more disconnected than ever. You see this everywhere: people occupying the same space without being together. We are “Friends” on Facebook, in touch via texts, but not really in relationships with each other. People are obsessed with screens, always “online”. Non-profits have the opportunity, now more than ever to play the role of connector-not just convener—but authentic connector to create true community in a world that desperately craves it.

We all know the axiom: “no money, no mission”, and, that by extension our donors are the ultimate customer. Not the people served by non-profit programs—but rather the people and organizations that fund them.

But to get into the relationship we want—donors as advocates, donors as partners, donors as investors—we need to pay equal attention to how they spend their currencies—time, trust and money. And that will take a lot more of our time. And often in fundraising, the last thing we have is time. Or at least that’s how we feel. The monthly benchmark, the annual campaign goal are all in the way of the time we and our organizations need to build real trust and true connection.

The easiest part of building the trust needed to establish a true connection is demonstrating good stewardship, transparency, and accountability. In the age of Charity Navigator and social media, the opportunities to share ever more facts and figures are endless. Donors from Generation X, Baby Boomers and those older make gifts of money, evaluate how we make use of their funds and then you earn their trust. But for Millenials, they want to spend time with our organizations and then evaluate how we respect that investment, before we earn their trust. And however earned, these investments in building trust are required before there is any real chance at the connected relationship that we really want with our customers.

So, if the rising tide of potential donors craves engagement before they invest their trust or their cash, how is your organization preparing? When I led marketing at United Way of Miami-Dade, we did significant research into the motivations of our donors. We learned that being connected to the impact of their donations was essential. So we created the volunteer engagement team and began to create strategies to form tangible connections between the donors and the beneficiaries of their generosity.

Non-profits today MUST provide these opportunities or our customers will be lost to those agencies and programs that do. Our current and potential donors want to meet the people who benefit from their financial contributions. Absolutely. But more than that, more than a confirmation that their money has gone to good use, that our organizations merit their trust, …they want to join us in the trenches—they want to be active participants in our life changing work. They want to paint houses, they want to plant flowers, and they want to read books to pre-schoolers.

And if this is so…Is it clear how people can get involved with our organizations? Do we have the internal staff dedicated to making this easy or to developing volunteer or advocacy opportunities? For some organizations, finding tangible ways to engage our donor audience will be easy. For others, it will take some effort.

Remember, what our prospective donors want when they exchange their currencies of time, trust and money with your organization…is to form connections, which will CHANGE THEIR LIFE.   To find connection and meaning in this disconnected world. And the way they change their life; the way they find connection is to be generous with today’s currencies: denominated in time, in money and in trust.

And the good news: they need our organizations to do it.

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