What are you trying to do at your social impact organization? You’re trying to change the world, right? Good!

So what are you asking your donors to do? Are you asking them to change the world — or give you $10? Are you asking your event participants to change the world, or to show up somewhere?

I’m working on a few different datasets right now and one thing I’ve seen in all of them is a disconnect between the expectations we have of our work and the expectations we have of our constituents. More specifically, we have much lower expectations of our constituents than what we have written in our vision statements.

Here’s an example. One fundraising program I’m analyzing has about 33% retention, meaning about 33% of the participants come back for a second year. (Yes, that’s right, meaning 67% do not come back. Unfortunately low retention is common in many types of fundraising.) Of the 1/3 that come back, nearly 80% perform at the same level or lower the second year. In other words, not only do most people not come back — the vast majority of the precious group who are engaged enough to come back don’t give at greater amounts. When you add onto this the fact that in event fundraising many constituents do not donate at all (it’s true; commentary here), you’ve got either a rather depressing picture or a rather huge opportunity to communicate our visions more powerfully.

I see this again and again: Our constituents will rise to the expectations that we create for them. When we tell our constituents that they can help change the world by texting us a donation of $5, they believe us. When we tell them that they can help change the world by just showing up at an event, they believe us. When we tell them that they can help change the world by buying mailing labels, they believe us. And the vast majority of the time, their subsequent behavior will follow the first expecations we’ve set.

But the thing is, we have higher expectations. Don’t we? We actually want to engage people in profound change. Right? 

Believe me, I understand the value of small gifts. And I understand that our asks and offers need to be tailored to different groups of constituents. In fact, I do a lot of work — and speaking — on both subjects. But effective segmentation is one thing; settling for the lowest common denominator is something else altogether.  

Don’t be afraid to paint a big vision and then ask for engagement commensurate to the scope of that vision. If you create reflection upfront, you might find that people slow down in their decision-making. But you’ll also find they will value their decision more once they make it.

You’re worth it. A better world shouldn’t be an impulse buy.