I grew up with a mother working on her Masters in family counseling. So as kids, my sister and I got to read a lot of her homework. Seriously. She’d photocopy articles or chapters in books and have all of us read it. I know. I grew up in a weird house. But it was the 1970s and the 1980s and my parents were intellectuals! 🙂

One of the systems I remember is “Transactional Analysis.” We always had books like T.A. for Tots lying around the house.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about how well TA fits with fundraising and nonprofit marketing.
Now, I’m not a qualified TA professional. And I’m not here to defend it or attack it as a system. But as I remember it:

  • Parents talk down at others, telling them what to do.
  • Child feel pressured or feel a need for affirmation or throw a tantrum to be heard.

Healthy communication comes as people talk adult to adult. Adults are more reasoned and reasonable. There’s more ability to talk through issues and hear the other person’s point of view.

Here’s a helpful diagram that’s commonly used in explaining TA:

(c) 2006 EricBerne.com

Is your parent or child fundraising?

Can you see how these dynamics play out in fundraising? Either we come in as the “parent” egotistically telling people they should be giving to us in the same way we’d tell our kids to eat their vegetables. Not very compelling.

Or we look up to the board or donor prospect and desperately seek their attention and approval. We long to be told we’re alright and we’ll be taken care of. When that doesn’t happen, we might throw a tantrum.

TA in the board room

I saw this in play in a board meeting a couple weeks ago with a very professional and accomplished person. I doubt this person knew how they were coming across. About one issue, they thought we should go before a council of leaders to announce our new direction. Sitting there, it reminded me of my kids coming into the room telling me something they’d decided to do. I’m not quite sure why they’re telling me something I already thought they should be doing this and I’m not quite sure what they expect me to say. I’d rather just see it in action. This person seemed to be relegating our entire organization to the role of child.

Minutes later, that same person then switched roles and, whether intentional or not, thought we should announce the same thing to a group of organizations we partnered with. This time it came across as very dictatorial and unilateral. All of a sudden, our role was now supposed to be parent–and since we gave funding to these organizations, it might have felt even more like a parent talking to a child!

Neither are conducive to good nonprofit marketing or fundraising.

Let’s all be adults

The best stance for marketing and fundraising is when we approach it as adults talking to adults. We’re not demanding their support or allegiance through pronouncements or tantrum like nagging. We’re inviting them to learn about and invest in our cause.

Take an objective look at your communications and interactions with others. Are you coming at it as a parent, child, or adult?

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