Your Agents of Good, as our cherished and punished clients know, have banned the word “data” from our language. It’s not “data”. They are DONORS! It’s not “extracting the data”, or “data segmentation” it’s “finding donors to inspire” and “talking to people the way they deserve to be talked to”.
A few nights ago, with a wiggly but tired 9-year-old boy on my lap, we tucked in to watch his favourite YouTube Channel, SciShow. I was not thinking about your donors, or even thinking about you. I was thinking “how can it be that I still love the smell of his hair, because it smells like a dodgeball, a sweaty baseball glove and that plastic smell of new Lego.”
Anyway, as soon as the show began, I was transfixed. Like the nerdly-and-oh-so-adorably-handsome Hank Green, I had thought that the term of a group of owls (a “parliament”) was my favourite. Second favourite, a “murder” of crows.
I’ve now discovered not only my favourite word for a group of animals, but I’ve also discovered a whole new way to talk about donors: murmurations.
As Hank describes, a murmuration is the hypnotic, fluid lava-lamp like flow of a flock of starlings. And because it’s a science show, he gets into the math and mystery of murmurations, which only served to solidify my love for this word and its meaning in our lives at the Agents of Good.
Here are the 3 reasons why:
First. Biologists use the term “selfish herd” for animals grouping together for defensive reasons. This is the starling version of “data extraction”. Never mistake a group of donors for “data”, and never mistake a group of starlings for a “selfish herd”. A murmuration is complex, dynamic and fascinating. Promise to acknowledge they are a murmuration.
Second. The way a murmuration works is that there is no single leader, but rather the whole flock responds as one. Each bird is influenced by the 6 or 7 birds around them and not by the whole group. When was the last time you thought about who influences your donors? Think it’s you? Go find yourself a selfish herd. You are privileged to have donors who give to you because your organization echoes their values. You do something they believe in and care deeply about. Find ways to create a sense of belonging and connect your donors to the beliefs and emotions you all share.
Third. And perhaps most poetic. As Hank says, mathematically, a murmuration is not so much bunch of birds as it is a tipping point. They start out as individuals, but moments after a certain number flock together, they are connected into a cohesive unit. Part of our work is helping our clients find their URG, or Unique Reason to Give (like the marketing term USP or Unique Selling Proposition only with heart, soul and feelings) which we describe as your organization’s mission expressed in the donor’s words and effusing with their values. Go back to 24 hours before your organization was founded. A group of individuals, at one magical moment, were so passionate, so restless for change, so angry that they created a tipping point. They stood together and said, “this is unjust, this is not right and I’ve got to do something NOW”. Your founders were moved and swayed by the thoughts and progress of those around them. No one was operating with their own agendas (or budgets). And as a whole, they created something amazing and beautiful.
A murmuration is actually your natural state. Do yourself, and your donors, and all of us, a favour. Reconnect with that.