Whatever we put into the universe will come back to us (or 1st Grade Deja Vu)

One of my earliest memories of my First Grade class is of a peach colored rectangular piece of cardstock taped to the top of the chalk board at the front of the room with the words carefully printed in black felt pen, “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” Every time a student was petty or cruel, our teacher, Mrs. Griswold would sigh, gesture to the sign, and repeat its mantra once again, to which, of course, the misbehaving six-year-old would reply “Why?” The answer would change each time, but the most memorable of statements came when Mrs. Griswold had absolutely reached her wit’s end: “Because that’s how they will treat you back.” Karma at its simplest.

It is a simple premise yet one that so many of today’s organizations forget. The modern consumer is jaded, having too many times encountered businesses that follow the used car salesman model of marketing. Companies rely on twisting the truth and squeezing one more penny from their customers, treating them as mindless sheep without seeming to realize the sheep have long since caught on. This kind of sales behavior is so pervasive in our society that we have even come to expect it.

We have also all become much more cynical and less trusting in part due to the constant and ever present news cycles (real and fake) that can be accessed on demand. And how many times have we seen headlines and news coverage questioning the actions of non-profit leaders in the name of their charity? These are the stories that stick with us and cause us to doubt the integrity and honesty of such organizations.

There is no loyalty, no confidence, between the parties. And, by this point, neither side expects there to ever be. How can we, in good conscience, ask others to donate their money, their time, their support, if there is no trust?

You, though, have the opportunity to change that. The approach is so simple even a first grader knows it: treat others how you want to be treated. Give them dignity, kindness, respect. Be straightforward and honest about your organization, acknowledge your future donors’ intelligence, and show your volunteers how much they are valued. If you want them to care about you, demonstrate that you care about them first. Treat them as partners, not targets; individuals, not dollar signs. Encourage them to speak as honestly with you as you do with them, then actually listen. Acknowledge their doubts, their reticence, and praise them for being so shrewd in their loyalties. Assure them that their faith is warranted then turn around and prove it. The largest percentage of donors by far is the individual, so recognize them as singular beings, not a mass.

This idea isn’t new, but it can be, quite literally, revolutionary. We can all take a lesson from nonprofits who are doing this well. Nonprofits like charity: water are focusing their outreach campaign on making their donors and volunteers feel valued and unique — listening to their ideas for future fundraisers, freely giving proof that their words and actions align, personalizing the call for aid where possible — inspiring loyalty and commitment in return.

No matter if you subscribe to the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you) or Newton’s Third Law of Motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) or the King James’ Bible (as you sow so shall you reap), or the more modern version (karma’s a b*tch), this same concept follows us throughout our lives. In my case, since first grade on. It is the simplest of principles, one often forgotten in the noise of life and marketing, but it is one of the best. Treat your donors, your volunteers, and the beneficiaries of your programs and services as you wish to be treated, and they shall return in kind.

P.S. Can you guess which one is me in the photo?  I’ll give you a hint: I’m in red and white

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