Trauma In and Through Fundraising - a conversation begins.


I have been thinking about trauma and fundraising. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that I've been thinking about trauma. I hear the word "trauma" far more frequently in many more circumstances than ever before, and I wonder about utilizing a trauma-informed approach to fundraising. Bessel van der Kolk, author of "The Body Keeps the Score" writes that trauma is "an event that overwhelms the central nervous system, altering how we process and recall memories…Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then; it is the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside people."

There is increasing consideration regarding how we, as fundraisers, have the opportunity and respond to individuals' life experiences by listening and writing about their lives from a compassionate, trauma-informed perspective, having always gotten their permission to share that story. The reality is that everyone has a level of trauma in their lives. It could be in childhood, adulthood, or even vicarious- as experienced by othersOne reference made the point that  no matter how or when a person experiences trauma, co-founder of The Sanctuary Model, Joseph Foderaro, stated"It's not 'What's wrong with you?' but 'What happened to you?'"

So what about fundraisers? We are just people who have our own past experiences, present-day concerns, and hopes for the future. Perhaps our fundraising mantra ("every NO is actually a MAYBE") may not be trauma-informed and may even trigger intrusive memories and reactivity in ourselves and others. If we never accept "no," we continually set ourselves for disappointment. Because no matter how much we claim that we don't take "no" personally, we do, even if for a moment, and that could trigger the trauma we carry. 

And the donors? Sure, we know a lot about their monetary value and may know some things about their political and ethical mindset. But what do we really know about their authentic lives? How they grew up? How do they live now? What it took to get to where they would appear on our prospect list? Sure, The trauma is sometimes public, and you can google your way into the worst moments of an individual's life. But how does that individual relate to that experience now? ? Not how they appeared to deal with the experience on PAGE SIX, but how they relate to the experience in the present moment. Perhaps that experience motivates them to share their story and contribute to an organization. What trauma have they faced, and how does it affect their lives, especially their relationship with wealth.   Traumatic experiences may inform how donors relate to and decide how to use their wealth.

I am not suggesting that we as fundraisers act as a therapist or that we should ask prospects, donors, and Board members to share their traumatic experiences with us, or that we should make assumptions and label an individual's personal experience as trauma. But, first, We do need to reflect on we need to look hard at why we are fundraisers, our relationship with money, and how we understand our place within our organization. For example, have you ever been told that payroll won't be covered unless you raise more money by a specific date? How did you respond? How do you respond now, reading the question? Perhaps you felt a physical reaction. Paying compassionate attention to our physical sensations is the foundation of trauma-informed fundraising. Now, start to talk about trauma.

I want to thank Lisa Temoshok, LMHC, for her invaluable assistance in this blog post. 

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