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Walking the Tightrope between Sympathy and Advocacy

Walking the Tightrope between Sympathy and Advocacy

  • The clients of a culinary arts training program are all formerly incarcerated. It promotes itself as a “job training” program without mentioning that its clients have criminal records.
  • A legal services provider for women caught in sex trafficking helps prostitutes, without any biases about the choices they have made, but has a hard time explaining its non-judgmental stance to donors.
  • A retirement community has a foundation that raises money from residents to allow fellow residents to stay even if they have exhausted their savings. Their fundraising literature emphasizes that the fund is for people who have run into financial difficulty “through no fault of their own.

All three of these organizations are navigating between sympathy and advocacy. The repulsion against people who take advantage of charity is nearly universal. That is why many people look down on individuals who are on welfare. There is also a nearly universal religious impulse to help people regardless of their backgrounds. That is the power of the story of the Good Samaritan.

Some of the most powerful organizations have a mission that includes both serving clients and advocating on their behalf. Here are some questions that will help you walk that tightrope.

  • Does your organization’s fundraising message reinforce or undermine the dignity of your clients?
  • Are there ways you can educate your supporters about why your clients are in need?
  • Can you diminish the division between your clients and your donors, in a way that offers hope and new insight to everyone?

Walking the Tightrope between Sympathy and AdvocacyPaul Jolly is the founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March 2016, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.

Topics: Charity Advocacy Recipients of Charity Compassion