Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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by Rebecca Wear Robinson on January 22, 2014

MoneyOnce anyone has passed the point of financial security where their basic needs are covered, they begin to focus on the intangibles of life – love, personal esteem, and reaching individual potential – famously identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The challenge for anyone working in drowning prevention (or any other cause) is understanding that everyone’s hierarchy looks different. The tendency is to pitch your cause or organization in a way that makes you feel good and fulfills your needs, without understanding that others don’t share your values or priorities, and then being surprised that they don’t share your vision and aren’t willing to support your organization.

Today I’m going to talk about the importance of stepping outside yourself and putting yourself in the shoes of your potential donors.

People are motivated by different things. I have written extensively about how to raise awareness and attract funding by being clear about who you are and targeting an audience who shares similar values.  Finding that audience with shared values can be difficult unless you are willing to explore and understand what motivates different people and organizations, and understand your own motivation.

If you are working in drowning prevention, I can pretty much guarantee that you aren’t in it for the money, drowning being the most under-funded epidemic on earth with far too many people working for free.  Offer a typical program in drowning prevention $1000, or even $10,000, and they will be beside themselves with excitement. If I mention the $472 million annual budget of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Fund, there is usually utter shock. Shock that such amounts of money are controlled by one organization, for one cause. An amount that, I’m guessing, is at least four times the entire annual global drowning budget.

Money on it’s own does not solve all the world’s problems, but it is necessary to develop and fund programs, train staff, create effective communication campaigns and pay salaries for talented professionals (yes, you).

Where is the money?

Grants, government funding, and fund-raising events or small individual donations tend to be the target in our field, but to crack the big money, the corporate funding and the billionaire philanthropists or any wealthy individual donor, you need to understand the mindset that put those people in control of millions and billions of disposable dollars in the first place.

Bear with me as I make a very broad generalization, because no one fits neatly into either category, but let’s split the world into two camps – those who are motivated by money, and those who are not motivated by money. Very generally speaking, when you find someone at the top of a field where money, status, and power are the marker of success, they are motivated by money, status, and power. More specifically, money is only the counter, the measure by which you can wield status and power. Once you’ve hit that first $10 million or so it’s not about survival, it’s much more powerful. Status and power. It’s the access to the right people, the ability to be involved in the big decisions, to be recognized by your peers, and the trappings that we as a culture have determined signify wealth, status and power.

Sounds obvious, but it’s important. If someone is motivated by wealth, status and power, they will not part with their money unless it enhances their wealth, status or power. Think about it. When someone donates $100 million to a school, it’s usually renamed after that person, like one of my alma mater’s, the Kellogg School of Management.

There was a great article in the NY Times this week about wealth addiction that may provide a small level of insight.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen in print what I’ve observed over the last 20 years and I think he is right on the money (pun intended). The only part where he went flying into unrealistic la-la land was the last paragraph where he decided others in finance should create a fund with 25% of their salaries and bonuses to ‘do good’. He shows the same level of unrealistic idealism exhibited by people working for peanuts in causes. A total inability to understand that you can’t force values on someone else and that others don’t share your values or motivations. Just because he has ‘seen the light’ does not mean that Wall Street is going to be beating down his door to give away their bonuses.

I think change is occurring, but unless you’re in the club, you have no way of pushing for the change. Fortunately, the Billionaire’s Club of Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, and others, are putting serious peer pressure on their fellow billionaires to donate the bulk of their fortunes to charity with the Giving Pledge.

We can’t change the mentality of the people who have the really significant fortunes, but we can convince them that donating money to end drowning will create a lasting legacy, raise their status, increase their power, or whatever else does it for them. You can tell a bit of the motivation by looking at the criteria they have set. And let me say, I’m not just impressed with much of the criteria, but I think they are doing all causes a huge favor by forcing some business disciplines on fields (and people) who have been at the opposite extreme of wafting around ‘doing good’ regardless of results. Cost-benefit analysis. Measurable results. Sustainable programs. Culturally sensitive programs. This is, and it should be, the way of the future. Do good, but make it count. Set rigorous benchmarks and if an idea isn’t working, rework it or ditch it. (For the record, I think the same should be applied to all businesses – no bailout rewards for running a business into the ground – it has to work both ways. Yes, I’d have let the banks fail, or at the very least fired top management and the Board and eliminated all bonuses for at least that year with strict criteria for future years.)

The big money is telling you what they need to direct the money in your direction. Pay attention, but first and foremost, understand that they aren’t just going to hand you a blank check because they get the warm fuzzies helping you out. If you’re going for a portable pool to teach survival swimming – name the pool after the donor (with their permission, of course, some do prefer to remain anonymous). If you are going after enough money to launch a swim or water safety program covering thousands of children, name the program after them. Ditch your ego (because those are in plentiful supply no matter the field or salary), the program name you spent hours agonizing of that you love to distraction, and focus on the end goal. You can do some good with all your passion, talent and dedication. You can do far more good with millions of dollars.

Step outside yourself. Understand that other people think differently. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s the people you are trying to convince to enroll in your program or the big money you are trying to attract. Challenge your own motivations. Question what you really need to feel successful and appreciated. And then look for a financial partner where you both feel good about the outcome.

We can’t end drowning without money. Let’s focus on attracting the right, big, money.

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