What's Love Got to Do With It? 5 Keys to a Successful Relationship with Your Cause
It’s Valentine’s Day and my Facebook newsfeed is filled with love. Tender messages of adoration for significant others. Plans for romantic dinners. And joyous celebration over the Marriage Equality Bill, which our governor signed just in time for this international day of love.
It’s got me wondering how love and passion are sustained. Admiring the many couples I know who’ve been together 7 years, 13 years, even decades, who couldn’t marry but nonetheless sustained their commitment to one another. Marriage is certainly no guarantee for long-term commitment and happiness, but it’s certainly a symbol.
So what’s the symbol of sustaining a different kind of passion – philanthropic passion? Where are the messages of support for people who are committed to a social cause? How do you renew your ‘vow’ to make a difference in the world? And how do you know that your cause, in fact, returns your devotion?
I looked at some keys to marriage success and decided there are some helpful analogies here, which led me to write this post: 5 Keys to a Successful Relationship with Your Philanthropic Cause
#1 Choose the RIGHT Cause
When I was a little girl, my grandfather advised me, “It is very hard to change your mate into something they are not! So choose wisely …”
Before you decide the cause that’s right for you, you need to know what you value. Take some time to examine your most core beliefs and values before making a long-term commitment. One SVP Volunteer suggests, “Sit down and think about what life experiences have impacted you positively. Dig deep and think about what’s important to you and how you can tap into that and seek a cause.” If an issue doesn’t address a core belief you hold, it will be hard to remain engaged and committed to the work, and chances for disappointment on your end – and the nonprofit’s – are much higher.
Resource for examining your values – Inspired Philanthropy by Tracy Gary & Melissa Kohner.
#2 Give 100 Percent
We wouldn’t expect a marriage to survive if one person is holding back. So when you do find that RIGHT cause - give generously. More importantly, give not just money but also invest of yourself and your time. At SVP we have hundreds of examples each year our partners are devoting their time to the issues they care about: as volunteer consultants, board members, committee members, mentors and coaches, tree planters, etc. These experiences are fueling their passion and knowledge about their cause, helping them remain committed, connect with others who share their passions, and discover new ways to give.
#3 Honor and Respect Your Cause
When I got engaged a couple of years ago, a close friend gave me Dr. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Reading the book I became terrified that I might one day meet Dr. Gottman, and he would size up me and my fiancé in a couple of minutes and pronounce whether we were doomed or not! Squelching my fear, I read on. I learned about the Four Horsemen (indicators that a relationship is in trouble) – Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Now when I find one of those Horsemen sneaking up on me during a stressful situation like my husband asking me not to leave my clothes on the bedroom floor, or me wondering why he needs to play hours of Xbox on his day off, I have a voice in my head reminding me to be open and respect his needs.
This is equally important with the causes we care about. We can’t accomplish our philanthropic goals alone. To advance our causes, we must believe in our hearts that those closest to the work on the ground are best equipped to make decisions, even when our approach might be different. We should invest the time in learning from the experience of others, and, when we do differ, offer our opinions respectfully and civilly. And with a willingness to have our mind changed when we are wrong!
#4 Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Why is it still hard to remember that my mate cannot read my mind? Recently my husband and I agreed that we would stop overcommitting ourselves to social events every weekend, and spend more time keeping our house (which has reached near disaster levels) in better order. Not even a week later, I was shopping for groceries and inviting a few friends over for game night. Bewildered, my husband reminded me of our agreement. “Yes, but inviting people over means we’ll be forced to clean,” I explained gleefully. Upon further thought, I realized that it might have been useful to include my husband in this line of reasoning before committing him and his elbow grease with only 60 minutes to spare until our friends’ arrival …
Every relationship has challenges, and this is no less true with your philanthropic passion. Understanding the different communication style of the nonprofits you’re working with to advance your cause is also critical to a successful philanthropic relationship. Some nonprofit leaders prefer in person meetings and phone calls over emails, especially early on in the relationship. They may also want to get to know you personally and understand why you care about their cause, so don’t be afraid to share something about your values and passions for the issue before getting straight to business. Examine your decision making style - do you include others along the way in coming up with possibilities, or are you likely to take a broad vision and goal and go off on your own to solve a problem? Remember that others can’t read your mind, nor can you read theirs – so discuss mutual expectations before assuming.
Resource: Volunteer Self-Assessment: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Volunteering (An SVP Workbook)
#5 Stand Up For Your Cause!
It’s given me great comfort to know that my husband has my back. Do yourself and the cause you care about a favor. Take a stand. When you commit long-term to an issue, involve yourself in learning about the policy aspects. Where does the majority of the funding for nonprofits you support come from? Are those dollars threatened (especially in this economic recession)? How can you influence others to remain committed to your cause, e.g., voters, public officials, private foundations?
I recently interviewed a prominent philanthropist who shared an early experience she had helping raise money for a domestic violence nonprofit. At the end of the fundraising event they’d raised $35,000 and felt really pleased with themselves. The very next day with one stroke of a pen, legislators in Olympia removed a budget item that affected over a million dollars of public funding that would have gone to domestic violence prevention and training. She spoke of this “aha” moment where she realized that if the hours she and other volunteers had put into their fundraiser had gone instead to getting support for this budget item it would have resulted in more than 30 times the return.
Leveraging Limited Dollars: How Grantmakers Achieve Tangible Results by Funding Policy and Community Engagement (Jan 2012, National Center for Responsive Philanthropy) - download for free
Power in Policy: A Funder’s Guide Guide to Advocacy and Civic Participation (2007, Fieldstone Alliance)
As for how you will know that your cause, in fact, returns your devotion, well that one still has me stumped. Be strong, for you must be ready to act on your passion without expectation that your cause will love you back, at least not directly. Perhaps you can take some comfort by measuring progress of your cause, even if the impact your “love” creates is often hard to measure, is sometimes fleeting, or you experience setbacks.
Does that sound unromantic?