Asking For Help During Turbulent Times

By Audrey Levitin and Tom Watson

For so many of us working in the social sector, these are very difficult days. The news is uniformly grim, intolerance and outright bigotry are daily drumbeats, the trendlines seem bad, and the threat of authoritarian politics here in our own country hangs over the next year like a storm cloud on the public horizon. The trauma is real, and our brains are wired to seek shelter, to get away from the danger, to withdraw from the confrontation. Yet, our work remains – and so do the people we are all trying to help.

As consultants working with nonprofit organizations and the professionals leading them, we see the kind of numbness and paralysis that this can lead to. It is easy to feel dispirited and you may be concerned that your mission is not pressing or timely enough. It’s not one of the “breaking news” big headlines in this current and depressing cycle.

Yet, in our view, your mission matters more now than ever. Indeed, difficult times demand that you stand for your mission, your results and especially the people who count on your advocacy, services, or programs. And while it might sound trite, your daily achievements –  whether in international relief, human rights, or the direct services work of people helping people – are needed now more than ever.

And that’s why you need to feel empowered to ask for money. Because building stronger organizations through professional development and communications is both an empathetic and logical response to the current era of trauma and stress.

For us, pursuing a fairer justice system, helping young people in the South Bronx, strengthening the potential for peace in areas of conflict, and supporting refugees are just a few of the causes that can still make us spring out of bed in the morning, eager to collaborate with nonprofit leaders who are committed to making a difference. While we also worry about the gathering storm clouds, we have noticed that simple action – working hard each day, building organizations, writing grant proposals, advising executive directors and board members, building strategic plans, writing case documents – has a noticeable effect on our outlook. As does volunteer work and staying engaged in our own communities.

There’s a basis for this in science. Last January, Ohio State University released a major study that revealed that “people suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety may help heal themselves by doing good deeds for others.”

Co-author Jennifer Cheavens, professor of psychology at Ohio State, wrote in The Journal of Positive Psychology:

“We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”

Which brings us to this time of year. We’re in the middle of the annual campaign season. The annual appeal is a time of community, a time to remind people that they are involved in something important, something that matters. So here’s our CauseWired remedy: despite what is happening in the world, feeding people, freeing people, housing and educating people, remains essential life saving work and your supporters want to hear from you!    

It is a time for storytelling and inspiration. One of our clients provides educational programming to women who as a first step need to earn their high school diplomas. Many of the participants succeed and go on to an associates degree, a four year diploma and finally a good job and upward mobility. The sense of accomplishment and the actual benefits for the women, their families and their communities, are truly transformative and bring joy and hope to donors whose generosity makes those outcomes possible. 

The end of the year giving season is also the culmination of the year-long work of the executive, development and communications teams – demonstrating that the phone calls, reporting, meetings, webinars and the events lead to the end of year gift. 

It is our experience that those who give at the end of the year are the most dedicated supporters and will not let you down. There is an unspoken commitment, particularly major donors, to provide the sustaining support that they know is needed, especially when other issues compete for attention. 

Trust the donor community you have created. Difficult times are also a time when people remember how important it is to do good. It is comforting to know that during tragedy and trauma, the ritual of the end of year giving remains a source of stability and an expression of community.

And trust us, you will feel better.