What Maurice Sendak Can Teach Us About Authenticity

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator best known for his work “Where the Wild Things Are,” died yesterday at 83. I didn’t know him personally and I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who knew him personally but I feel like I know him, ya know?  He understood kids, he spoke on their level, and was not afraid to get dark and weird. He believed children were smarter, with a comprehension beyond nursery rhymes. And he was right. Where the Wild Things Are has sold over 19 million copies worldwide and won the Caledcott Medal in 1964.

Perhaps a better indicator of the book’s popularity is the reaction you get when you mention Wild Things to anyone. My friends in their twenties, the kids I work with in their tweens, and parents have all expressed a fondness for the story and illustrations. Decades after the book was published it became a bedtime story staple for my mom and me. She would read it to me until I was fast asleep and dreaming in the land of the Wild Things.

So what can Sendak’s enduring tale of a mischievous kid who sails to a new land and becomes king only to find himself homesick, teach us in the nonprofit and social enterprise world about relationships with our donors?

Don’t be a phony. Kids love Where the Wild Things Are because it reflects how they’re really feeling: bored, fearful, frustrated. Adults also respond to sincerity and are good at detecting bologna. Communication with your donors should be transparent. Donors understand that nonprofits need something from them. This is clear. But it’s the genuine relationship you cultivate throughout the donation process that will make all the difference. Do not make promises you can’t keep, do not deceive. Share stories and videos of the amazing things your donors or volunteers are doing. Say thank you, thank you, thank you.

Yesterday, Zealous Good follower and super supporter Heidi Massey said it best, tweeting a quote from the Chicago Ideation Conference: @HeidiEKMassey…ROI speaker said it’s about connecting authentically. Whoever does that the best wins.

So eat up your donors and love them so. And let the Wild Rumpus of giving commence!


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