One of the most common 3D questions I get is ‘Why do we have to do the soul stuff? Aren’t great facts and strong emotions enough?’

I’m afraid the answer is no…

And I have two expert witnesses to support the importance of the soul as the third critical dimension of truly connecting with donors:

  1. In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow published his now-classic human hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy consists of a five-rung ladder with the implicit assumption that you can only reach a given rung if you’ve achieved the elements of the rungs below it. The first two rungs are the survival basics – namely physiological (air, water, food etc.) and safety (having a secure job, being healthy and having a home of your own). When we play to these elements, the heart is the instrument on which to play. To be truthful, fear is the emotion that most often comes into play here – like fear of losing a job, fear of mortgage foreclosure, fear of kids growing up to be gang members).

Maslow’s higher rungs though are much more spiritual in nature. The third rung on the ladder is love and belonging (love is a spiritual rather than an emotional experience). The fourth rung is esteem – feeling good about yourself and having others feel good about you. This too is the realm of the soul in that its essence is self-love. The highest rung on Maslow’s ladder is self-actualization – or living the life you were born to live. Ask Oprah. Ask the Dalai Lama. Ask Deepak Chopra. Ask any guru you can think of. Self-actualization is the ultimate spiritual quest.

Think of the first two rungs as ‘the basics’. In other words, if you don’t attend to them you die.

Think of the highest three rungs as the joy. If you do attend to them you LIVE.

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Many of the fundraisers I know are still heavily involved in the first two rungs on Maslow’s ladder. Raising kids. Paying mortgages. Worried about a lot of stuff. A lot of the donors I know are pretty much past this stuff. They’ve figured out who they are. They know what’s important to them. They’re spending their time (and their money) on making their lives as meaningful as they can.

  1. Erik Erikson was a brilliant Danish psychoanalyst who is perhaps best known for introducing the idea of ‘identity crisis’. The essence of his work is that human beings develop psychologically through eight sequential stages. Like Maslow, Erikson argues that we must successfully ‘graduate’ from one stage in order to reach the next.

The first stage for example occurs in the first year of life. In stage one, we learn to trust and have hope (if our parents do their job that is.) If we ‘graduate’ from this stage, we go on to exercise our will and independence.

At the other end of the life journey, come the last two stages. Somewhere at or after the mid-point in life, we experience ‘generativity’ (stage 7). This is a general satisfaction with our lives and a willingness to share what we have because we no longer need everything for our own security and survival. Somewhere around age 65, (at stage 8), successful humans achieve a state of ‘ego integrity’. This final stage in life is characterized by a deep satisfaction with the person we’ve turned out to be. A peace and contentment with how it’s all turned out. A gratitude for what we’ve been given – coupled with a desire to give back so that others can reach this stage.

Stages 7 and 8 are clearly spiritual experiences. These are deep, metaphysical states of peace, wisdom and contentment.

As with Maslow, I think there’s a bit of a generation gap at work in philanthropy. Most of the fundraisers I see at conferences are under the age of 45. Yet, the donors who give the lion’s share of the philanthropic donors are passed the midpoint in their lives. The donors are at stage 7 and 8. Most fundraisers aren’t that far down life’s path.

The challenge then, is for fundraisers who are under 50 (and at lower rungs on Maslow’s and Erikson’s ladders) to connect meaningfully with donors who are over 50 (and on higher rungs).

Make no mistake. You’ve got to GO TO THEM. They’re not coming back to you. They’ve been there and they prefer it where they are now. (So will you when your time comes.)

Your mission is to understand these stages in life and to communicate to people who live there. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but it can be done. That’s what 3D Philanthropy is all about.