What Makes You Give?
Before I took the job as director of our local humane society, my entire fundraising career had been at a private girls’ school and a rather posh botanical garden. The day I walked into my office for the first time, my assistant – a crusty 74-year-old former humane officer who didn’t have much use for people and was plenty bitter about being off the road – took one look at my preppy self (I may actually have been wearing a circle pin) and made it her mission to educate me about my new line of work.
Her method was to join, on my behalf, every humane group, large or small, that sent out graphic pictures of suffering animals. Morning after morning, I’d come in and find some horrific image of a badly injured dog or cat staring up at me with a story that would tear your heart to shreds.At first, being new to the field and eager to learn, I read everything put in front of me. But soon I began to feel the excitement and determination that had brought me to this new endeavor slipping away. If the situation for animals was this overwhelmingly awful, surely my efforts would do little to change things. I wanted to run back to my clean-cut world of smart girls and beautiful flowers. But, something had brought me to this task and I knew I had to find a way to do it.
So, in one of my very few executive orders, I banished the negative press from my office and started taking a good look at those organizations, in animal welfare and all sorts of other fields, whose mailings compelled me to jump in, or better yet, to reach for my checkbook.
What I discovered was that I didn’t need to be hit over the head with hideous pictures and graphic descriptions to understand when help was needed. In fact, those images and descriptions made me turn away and left me feeling helpless and a little sick to my stomach. It was a feeling I hated so much that I stopped opening those mailings the way I avoid eating oysters.
The mailings I opened with enthusiasm were those that showed me, in upbeat, cleverly written stories and smashing happy-ending photos, the good work the organizations were doing and how I could become a part of it. Those mailings have been the models for my work over the years and those organizations are still the organizations I support.And yet, day after day, I turn on my computer to find email after email with horrific pictures of animals suffering all over the world (today it was waters off the coast of Denmark running red with the blood of slaughtered whales, several abused dogs from across the country, and downed cows at a slaughterhouse). I care desperately about these animals, but I confess that I cannot deal with those emails. Every morning, I run through the list with my finger on the delete key, scrambling to get the negativity off my computer so I can concentrate on the work I am doing to save the animals I feel I can save. I know I miss opportunities to make a difference just because I cannot face the messages.
But for thousands of others, these emails must work or they wouldn’t keep coming – so my question is, what makes you stop and read? What makes you pull out your credit card? What makes you run the other way? I’ll share your responses in a future blog entry.