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Framing Your Cause

All philanthropic causes ultimately point to the hope of a cosmic story: the complete cultivation of a whole and rich world. The key words are whole and rich. Making something whole is the work of restoration. Making something rich and beautiful is the work of cultivation.

Restore and cultivate. Every cause in the pantheon of nonprofits contributes in one or both of these ways. Exploring deeper these two words will equip the fundraiser to speak to their cause with greater inspiration and authority, and ultimately, compel generosity.


Examples: St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital; Salvation Army; Oceana

Underlying purpose: The work of restoration seeks out something that was intended to be or once was good in a person, place, or thing and returns it to its original and unimpaired structure. Restoration is always concerned with the most elemental and foundational. It is the brick and mortar of the foundation that defines restoration, not the new neon sign above the door.

For the Fundraiser: The fundraiser must speak to their cause in a way that directs the donor to celebrate the original, most fundamental intent of the subject and paint a picture of its current brokenness.

Key Attributes: Restorative work celebrates what was good, is aware of what is broken, and strengthens that which is critical.

Synonyms: renew; make whole; revive; re-establish; return


Examples: Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Symphony Orchestra; Girl Scouts of America

Underlying purpose: The work of cultivation is the work of creation: to take something good in a person, place, or thing, and grow it into something very good, beautiful, and life giving. Cultivation is always concerned with creating something new and contributive.

For the Fundraiser: Donors drawn to cultivating causes are, at their core, drawn to the work of growing, crafting, and creating. Fundraisers must invite donors to experience and appreciate the act of creating in addition to and beyond the final product itself.

Key Attributes: Cultivation holds what is inherently good, forms from it something very good, and with it serves others.

Synonyms: grow; develop; improve upon; craft; create

All good causes point to these two basic purposes. A fundraiser’s ability to relate to a donor on the most elemental level of your cause will result in greater inspiration and generosity.

There is a third purpose to which causes can contribute: the work of destruction. We often assume that all philanthropy is restorative and cultivating, but this assumption demands great caution. We’re not necessarily talking about causes that purposely destroy lives or the planet. We’re talking about causes that undermine and question the fundamental narrative of human flourishing. Many organizations possess gray area here and very few people agree on the basic direction of their work.

Elite fundraisers think critically about the nature of their organization. We must identify our cause and recognize that not every nonprofit is inherently contributing to a rich and whole world.

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