A Counter-Intuitive Approach to Fundraising: “Soulful” Disclosure

by Aryeh Ben David

This year we sent out an end-of-the-year request for support. The next day, I woke up and knew in my gut that we had made a big mistake.

Our letter of support was typical of those sent out at the end of the year by nonprofits: “Please partner with us to help us continue our successes … Here are examples of the wonderful things we did this year and our ambitious plans for growth … We are improving the lives of so many people …”

Nothing we said was untrue or even exaggerated.

But it wasn’t the entire truth. And that’s what made me uncomfortable. It was our Ego-story. Like the one someone tells at a party or a job interview. Limited to the highlights, the successes, the best moments.

I woke up nauseous because I felt that the people who support us, who believe in us, who have traveled the road with us – deserved more. They deserved a full and honest accounting of our activities. In Ayeka’s language – they deserved our “soul-story”. The story that contains shadows as well light, glitches along with the successes, disappointments together with the exhilarating moments. Their choice to partner with us should derive from the totality of our actions and behavior, not only the positives in the bright lights.

So the next day we sent out an apology to our email list, a “confession” of sorts, that we had not been fully transparent. We noted several projects that we undertook during the year that did not go as well as we had hoped, and even an oversight for which I was personally responsible. We explained why these events occurred and what we learned from them.

Afterwards, I felt a lot better about who we were and what we stood for. But I had no idea what kind of response our second message would evoke.

The reaction was breathtaking. Responses that included words like “inspiring”, “resonated”, “heart-warming”, “beautiful”, “honest”, “never seen anything like this before”, “brave”, “real”, “impactful”, “authentic”, “motivating”, “a gift”, “full of integrity”, “appreciated”, “meaningful”, “the most memorable example of authenticity I have read.”

Not only were we flooded with positive feedback, but our ‘confession’ generated donations and requests for our programs.

One person asked if this was “a trick” to get into the hearts of our supporters. Of course it wasn’t. We’re not that clever. It simply came from our gut.

Why did this ‘confession’ enter into the hearts of our supporters? There is a beautiful expression in Hebrew – “Words that go out of one person’s heart enter into the heart of another.”

What we learned is that heartfelt and authentic expressions have their place in the world of non-profit fundraising as much as they do in our interpersonal relationships. They should, no, must, permeate an organization’s DNA.

In order to be soulful with our supporters, as well as with ourselves.

Aryeh Ben David is the Founder and Director of Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education. Ayeka developed a unique educational approach and curriculum to enable adults to personalize Jewish wisdom and enhance their lives. www.ayeka.org.il