Courage! I’ve always loved the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the Cowardly Lion vigorously extols the glories of courage (“What makes the Hottentots so hot? Courage. What puts the “ape” in apricot? Courage!”) and then blushingly admits he lacks that powerful quality. (“Waddathey got that I ain’t got?” “Courage!” “You can say that again!”)
I think about courage often. Our world is dominated by virulent, vitriolic minorities who shriek their demands and their beliefs at the tops of their lungs. This is, of course, their absolute right; all hail the importance of freedom of speech. But as the American public loses faith in their public servants and their once-cherished institutions, that small minority has no counterpoint. Politicians – and non-profits – begin to fear the outraged protests and decide, instead, to avoid confrontation by appeasing the fringe elements.
This leaves the far-larger but much-quieter loyal majority confused. They feel abandoned. All they want is for their heroes and their favorite causes to uphold the principles that made them great. All they want is for you to be you.
But that takes courage. As a creative director, I know well the influence of those who feel a strong “pull to center.” They want to avoid offense, to stay in the middle of the road, to be all things to all people. I understand that instinct, and empathize with those who have it. I can work with it, if that’s what’s necessary…
…unfortunately, I also see the results, in terms of percent response and average gift. Direct marketing is measurable, and the data does not lie. With a watered-down message, once-strong loyalties fade. Once-resilient donor pools are siphoned off to similar causes. Once-high lifetime values creep downward.
The solution – and I know it’s a tough one – is to infuse some institutional courage. Return to the voice that inspired your donors. Take a bold stand and say so, plainly and clearly. Risk angering a small minority in return for reassuring the silent majority that you’re still fighting the good fight. That majority may be silent – but their check-writing hands still work just fine. Even the fringe group can surprise you; how often have you gotten an outraged letter that still had a donation enclosed? Those fringe folk are passionate about their issues!
In the end, the Cowardly Lion realized that he was filled with courage all along. It’s not reality that limits us; it’s our perceptions. Trust your donors. They love you. Embrace your courage. You never really lost it in the first place; you’ve always had the power!