There has been a big ruckus in the news over the past few days because of the alleged words of a certain owner of a California-based NBA team (it rhymes with “Flippers”). The comments made were very racially insensitive and denigrating. It is unfortunate that such views are still around in 2014. Rather than rehash everything here, I will encourage you to use Google News if you are not familiar with the story.
There is a lot of outrage over the inflammatory comments, understandably so. After all, we pride ourselves as a country that embraces all people, and we claim that we hold to a corporate belief that people are all the same. We all “put our pants on one leg at a time,” so to speak. Race does not matter, sexual orientation does not matter, and social standing does not matter. In light of our (general) collective viewpoint about such things, stories like this are troubling.
The fact is, however, that people are not the same. We are different. Some of us have different color skin. I know of great Americans who do not believe in war as a means to settle conflict, and I also have friends who serve in the military. Some of us believe in God, others revere Buddha, and some of us do not believe in a deity. I have co-workers who run marathons while I personally drive to the mailbox. People are different. And that is OK.
I had a conversation with a colleague a few years ago in which she was trying to convince me that we should ‘treat all donors the same.’ Regardless of their interests, development staff capacity, giving history, or their desire for organizational contact, we should treat all donors the same. After all, for some donors a gift of $10 is as significant as a gift of $10,000 from someone with greater means.
Although I understood the sentiment behind the conversation, I wholeheartedly disagree. Donors are not the same, and they must be treated differently. Some donors are very interested in recognition. If you are dealing with a donor who has buildings and/or parks named after them, then that is your clue that they have some interest in recognition. However, other donors prefer anonymity and would likely stop giving to you if you were to put their name on a building. Some donors love to hear about what their investment is accomplishing through your programs. But there are other donors who would rather simply send a check and not receive personal contact. Donors are not the same and they need to be treated in a manner consistent with their wishes on how to engage with the organization. We must respect how they wish to give and which projects interest them. It is our job to learn when and how they would like to be solicited, etc. Effective donor communication and segmentation will enable you to work with your donors in a manner that is meaningful to them and maximizes their relationship to your organization.
I am not sure what will happen with respect to this NBA debacle. Our feelings of fairness and parity cause us to have deeply negative reactions to this incident. Whether or not you believe that people are the same, racial discrimination is something that we need to put in the past. When things such as this happen, it serves to remind us that we still have a ways to go.
Have a great week,