Why It’s Okay When Not Everyone Likes You

“Your nonprofit can’t save the world, but it does have a unique place in making it better.”

I came across these words recently, and they got me thinking about the day I heard my high school teacher talking to a kid who was having problems fitting in.

“Look, not everyone is going to like you,” my teacher said. “So stop being who you aren’t, and start being who you really are. Find friends who will help you do good things in life; they’re the ones you need to focus on.”

Good—but tough—words to hear, especially for us in the nonprofit world who are naturally inclined to want to generate goodwill, build relationships and coalesce support. Everyone likes us. After all, we’re pros at spinning gold from straw and swaying people over to our side.

Despite our most heroic efforts, however, sometimes people just won’t be swayed. No matter what you do or say, you can’t ignite that flame of support.

That’s OK, because (repeat as needed): You can’t be all things to all people.

In the end, understanding that frees you to be everything to those who “like you for who you are” (your mission) and earnestly want to “help you do good things in life” (your programming and services).

The key then is to focus on building a stronger web of support among those groups, not a bigger one. How?

  • Focus, my friends. Be bold and dig deep into your donor relationships instead of casting wider nets of more anonymous support. Initially, you might get better results, but those “quick hits” are likely quicker to fade. Real long-term success comes in patience and perseverance—developing substantive relationships that last a lifetime and even across generations.
  • One for one. Remember, donors also have diapers to change, mouths to feed, college to pay for, retirement to fund—life’s concerns, just like us—and our nonprofits. Do we forget that on occasion? Continually step into their shoes to get to their giving motivations—what drives their capacity to care; see things from their perspective, not simply as part of your objective.
  • Think of donor “conversations” as engaging, not targeting. “Target” implies one-way direction—you/the organization targeting them. Foster a more meaningful dialogue and relationship built on common cause, purpose and commitment, and it will surely be able to withstand the ebb and flow of evolving times and circumstances.
  • Talk in terms of impact, not output. Donors, prospects and supporters are less concerned with the how much than what you actually did with it. They want to know—and see—how their dollars helped make their communities healthier, safer and happier, or how it made a difference in the lives of their loved ones. Give them concrete success stories, filled with vivid details, and tie your gain back to a tangible benefit for them—not just your success.

Interested in ways to develop deeper relationships, uncovering what drives our donors’ capacity  to care and foster a more meaningful dialogue? See how one organization did this cost effectively and efficiently here.

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