Why I Care About Your Cause, But Don’t Donate

“So much of the general population has this condition, I know that we’ll be able to get a huge percentage activated to fundraise.”

Thus, begins the path to your personal fundraising hell, begat when you first told your CDO what you thought could happen.

My father, Jack Fulton, died four years ago due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. During the last five years of his life, I was his primary support system, taking him to and from doctor’s appointments, coordinating registered nurse visits, going to the grocery store, and helping him with all the other necessities so that he could live in his home.

I became a self-educated lay expert on Parkinsonism. I know firsthand what a struggle it is to care for someone with the disease. After all that, my involvement with nonprofits that deal with the disease has been -- zero. Never attended a fundraiser, never donated a dollar.

Psychologists talk about “attitude importance,” the extent to which people attach significance to their attitude and care about it. People who acquire certain attitudes about things from direct experience, rather than indirectly, through the media or other means, tend to have the highest attitude importance. That was me, caring for my father. Nonprofits expend lots of money to raise people’s levels of attitude importance about their causes.

Still, there are lots of people like me that come into contact with a disease or social need, but never take action. How can we explain my lack of involvement?

Despite all my experiences, I never saw myself as someone who supported the effort to cure Parkinson’s. I never had a connection to any organization like the Michael J. Fox Foundation. No one tried to develop a “donor identity” in me, so I never donated. I received information from michaeljfox.org, the National Parkinson Foundation, and others. It described new treatments, new research. Why didn’t all this information spur me to action?

It was always about them, not about me.

What was the message that I needed to hear? Marketing expert Seth Godin puts it simply, “People like us do things like this.” People tend to label themselves in a certain way or with certain ties to their social groups, community, or experiences. The more strongly held are the self-beliefs, the more likely they are to behave in ways that are consistent with them.

Although I felt strongly about the issue, I didn’t feel strongly about myself. Without seeing myself as a “Parkinson’s disease evangelist,” I wasn’t likely to evangelize.

The lesson for nonprofits is this: Rather than focusing on the mission’s need or what donors’ gifts can accomplish, make your communication more personal. “We’re reaching out to you because you’re a caregiver who knows how difficult it can be. Caregivers support other caregivers.”

The way to make it about you, is to make it about me, first.