So you want to inspire people…

The Ruidoso Altrusans at the meal packing event.

I like when non-profits are effective, and it bothers me when they’re not.

I take effectiveness as a sign of dedication and commitment. I take ineffective messaging as a shame and a disservice.

Here’s the thing: if your messaging sucks, you’re hurting whoever you’re trying to help. 

I’m referring to a specific instance from a few months ago. I went to an event that had two purposes: to raise awareness of world hunger, and to inspire attendees to sign up as volunteers to stop it.

It was part fundraiser (the organization needed over $20,000 to host the event), part pep-talk (and 500 volunteers!), and part educational about both the problem of hunger and the organization the event would be hosted with.

They did, eventually, touch on all those subjects, but it happened in a disorganized manner. It came off as preaching to the choir. We were all, by virtue of being there, aware that starving kids are not a Good Thing. Their messaging was a mix of religion (heavy on the Christianity), pictures of suffering children, “only 22 cents to feed a child,” and my personal favorite: fat-shaming!

The lovely, uncomfortable moment when the projector screen juxtaposes a starving child’s rib cage with an obese sports fan shoving a cheeseburger into his mouth.

I can’t imagine what the larger people in that room felt at that moment. Shame? Embarrassment? Guilt? Judgment?

I don’t think you want your volunteers to feel that way. I think you want them to feel encouraged, valued, and appreciated. Cherished.

My message today is simple: don’t guilt people into donating or volunteering. Ask them. Thank them. Shout your praise from the damn rooftops.

If you don’t, you’re dishonoring the people you’re helping – the starving children of the world that you’re trying to feed.

Image: The Ruidoso Altrusans (including me!) at the meal-packing event.

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