Of course you’re worthy. Get over it.

Fighting the sententia digna labore virus

First in a series about your case for support

Do feel like fundraising shouldn't be this hard? That donors are difficult people? Do your major gifts staff lack competitive edge? Are your executives too busy to make donor calls? Do board members glaze over when fundraising is discussed?

Yes?  Then, you might have a virus – one that’s been around for decades. Favoured conditions for its spread include smugness, presumption and self-righteousness. The virus also feeds off pure, blind passion for a cause. And complacency compounds its debilitating effects.

The medical name is sententia digna labore*, or what my partner Ken MacLeod calls “worthy cause thinking”— that conviction that our cause is so utterly worthy that in any just universe, we would not need to ask or compete for funds. Infected parties manifest a sense of insult, annoyance and irritability when confronted with the need to be strategic or intentional about finding support.

Victims of the virus over-use the words “ought” and “deserve,” as in “People ought to support us. Why do we have to explain ourselves? They ought to know why this is important. They ought to trust us – these questions just keep us from the important stuff we are doing. They ought . . . because we deserve it because our cause is so darn worthy.”

The condition is serious. It leads to dull appeals, demotivated staff, and declining interest among donors. Recovery from sententia digna labore begins with a reality check.

  • Every charity is worthy to somebody.
  • Most people will have at least one charity they favour more than yours.
  • No donor is lacking causes to support. 
  • No one gives just because we have bills to pay.
  • We get few points merely for trying hard or because you mean well.
  • No one is obligated to support us. Support must be earned.

How do we earn it? By making our best case for support. Case development is a highly calculated effort to present compelling reasons for a donor to choose to support you.

How to make that case will occupy a few posts here. In the meantime, if you’re afflicted with the sententia digna labore virus, start your office on reality therapy. And pump yourself up for the case work ahead by remembering the ancient advice utile dulci and per angusta ad augusta

-- Larry Matthews

* sententia digna labore was made up using Google Translate and "checked" in other web translation services. The other Latin phrases are genuine. The first means “the useful with the agreeable.” The second translates as “through difficulties to honours.”

Next: Altered states: remembering why we have a case for support