The 90-degree shift 800 years ago

It’s been some years ago since I’ve read Ken Burnett’s 89 great ideas in The Zen of Fundraising. Many, if not all of them, keep coming back to me from time to time. Lately it’s this one: make the 90-degree shift. Ken explains: “The 90-degree shift is nothing more complex than seeing things from your donor’s point of view rather than from your own or your organization’s point of view.”

He illustrates this with three good old marketing sayings:
– When a customer buys a quarter-inch drill, what he really wants is a quarter-inch hole.
– It doesn’t matter what you want to sell. The only thing that matters is what they want to buy.
– People don’t read advertisements. They read what interests them. Sometimes that includes an advertisement.

According to Ken, “almost nothing will make your fundraising more successful than learning to implement this simple attitude of mind.”

More recently I read the (free-downloadable) book How advertising will heal the world and your business, from Mark Woerde.

FYI: The book calls for a radical paradigm shift in branding: consumers are waiting for Meaningful Prosocial Brands (MPBs) to fulfill a basic, strong and growing need: the need to live a meaningful life. MPBs go beyond conventional Corporate Social Responsibility and use their marketing power to engage target groups and help them to help others by tackling societal issues. (Which Corporate Fundraiser is willing to write the book review?)

Anyway, while explaining his theory, Woerde looks at supporter motivations, feelings and reasoning using the Golden Ladder of Charity, which was developed by Moses Maimonides in the 12th century. More than 800 years before Ken Burnett explained the 90-degree shift, there was a man named Maimonides who apparently was a star in understanding supporters!

The Golden Ladder of Charity shows different ways of charitable behavior. Although Maimonides’ work refers to tzedakah, which in Judaism refers to the religious obligation to perform charity and philanthropic acts, you can see a lot of similarities with current voluntary philanthropic behavior of our supporters.

The eight different ways of giving are:
1. Giving with regret or reluctance. A gift of the hand and not with the heart.
2. Giving willingly, but inadequately to the distress of the sufferer.
3. Giving willingly and adequately, but not until we are solicited.
4. Giving willingly, adequately and even unsolicited. But by personally giving it to the sufferer it also excites the painful emotion of shame in him.
5. Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
6. Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
7. Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient via a third party.

8. “Lastly the eighth and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity, by preventing poverty; namely, to assist the reduced brother, either by a considerable gift, or a loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood; and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. This is highest step and the summit of charity’s Golden Ladder.(Hurwitz, H. The Ancient Herbrew Sages, Morrison and Watt, 1826)

Maimonides made the 90-degree shift 800 years ago. He looked at supporters and tried to understand their behavior, their values and reasons behind charitable giving: their point of view. It’s easy thinking about telemarketing, direct mail and legacy fundraising programs, or being unflexible in donor recognition. But remember: that’s what we want to do and not necessarily what and how our supporters want to give!

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