How to Harness the Desire to “Save the World”

Behind every nonprofit is a desire to change things for the better.

Environmental organizations often take this a step further and are filled with staff (and donors) who hold a deep desire to Save the World.

If you are an environmental organization, trying to get donors or supporters, followers or signers… it’s up to you to harness the power of this desire and use it to your advantage.

But… the Save the World slogan is fairly broad, generic, and has been so overused that it’s lost its meaning, even for those of us who still hold this desire.

What does it really mean to want to Save the World?

Are environmentalists as altruistic and selfless as we sound?

My guess is no.

Here’s the truth about environmentalists as you should see us.

We’re not any different than other donors.

Which means… we want to help. That part is true.

But there are other, deeper emotions besides Benevolence racing around in any donors mind, and environmentalists are no exception.

How to dig deep past the simple, benevolent desire to Save Things.

  • Environmental donors are Vain, just like the rest of humans around the world. We want to help, but we want to KNOW we’re helping. We’re Proud of our sacrifices, and generally want others to know about it. It’s why we don’t shower or shave, so other people can instantly tag us as a certain class of people who are, clearly, sacrificing for the cause.
  • Even though many environmental organizations I know like to tout the whole Gloom and Doom thing, we wouldn’t be trying so hard as a community to “Save the World” if we didn’t actually think we could. So, we’re Optimistic about the future. Use this! Tell us success stories and impart some optimism of your own from within your organization. How are things better now than they were before? And more specifically, how have you made them better?
  • Of course, to counter the happy optimism, we’re also full of Doubt. Personally, I like this trait, because it makes us ask questions. Give us the answers to these questions and you’ll get our loyalty. Or, make us doubt something, then rally our support so we can charge the field and change the future together.
  • The environmentalists I know have a great sense of Humor. (Well, most of them anyway.) We love life and live for genuine, good experiences. It’s one of the reasons we spend our days in the outdoors… it’s fun.
  • We also genuinely Worry about the state of our planet and our future. We worry that our children will not have access to nature and wild places as we did, be as healthy or as happy.
  • Regrettably, many environmentalists I know love to Shock people, whether its with their knowledge, their distinctive odor or appearance, their views, or the doom and gloom that could possibly descend upon us if we don’t ACT NOW. We like to get attention. So, use this to your advantage. Shock us a bit, so we can turn around and shock others.
  • Environmentalists are nothing if not Passionate. And while it sometimes is exclusively about the environment, it isn’t always. Passion generally breeds passion for other things. Make us feel strongly about something and we’ll become passionate. And passionate people make great ambassadors for your cause.
  • We’re a Curious bunch. Give us tantalizing headlines that entice us to learn more, click more, share more and ultimately, donate more. 
  • Fear, Alarm, and Horror is my least favorite method, but it really work wonders on a lot of people. In fact, you could argue that fear is the one emotion that should be mined to its deepest depth. Fear can move mountains and get you far, if you use it right.
  • We get Angry when we feel people are taking advantage of the planet. Like, genuine anger. And anger, if channeled into action (safe action of course, no Monkey-Wrenchers here thank you very much) can be very powerful.
  • We also get genuinely Confused when other people’s actions don’t match up with our values. Why would you throw away that plastic bottle? Seriously. Don’t you know what will happen to it? Confusion leaves us feeling lost, alone, powerless… but then, you, the mighty environmental organization swoops in and gives us a feeling of Inclusion, a feeling that someone knows how to enlighten the unenlightened. You can give us peace.

Don’t assume environmentalists are all the same

It’s up to you to take that benevolence that comes from the desire to do good, to make a change, and bring it to the next level.

Don’t get stuck on the deceptively simple desire to Save the World. It just might not be enough to really sway a donor out of her comfort zone, past all the other obligations and desires that pile up with age and income.

Dig deep, and you just might hit the mother lode… access to her checkbook.

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