“The willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” This is how Josiah Royce defined loyalty in his 1914 book, The Philosophy of Loyalty (link takes you to free eBook). In Fresno County, there are more than 2,200 non-profit organizations many of which struggle year after year to continue to engage a shrinking pool of donors and volunteers. In a burgeoning economy, loyalty is less of a priority. When loyalty is less of a priority, it becomes loosely defined. When it is loosely defined, it is loosely displayed. Now is the time to revisit loyalty.
“A man is loyal when, first, he has some cause to which he is loyal; when secondly, he willingly and thoroughly devotes himself to this cause; and when, thirdly, he expresses his devotion in some sustained and practical way, by acting steadily in the service of his cause.”
Therefore, based on Royce's philosophy, loyalty requires an identifiable cause, an opportunity to engage and sustainable devotion.
Identifiable Cause: More than just killing the witch
A non-profit organization exists to serve a particular group or situation. In the midst of shouting “carpe diem,” the core of how the organization is going to change the world is missed. Without a clearly identifiable cause, loyalty is nearly impossible. The first place the cause should be evident is in the mission of the organization. The mission must be clearly defined and clearly communicated. Please don’t point to the plaque on the wall. Point to the people, issues or situations being served. The cause is most identifiable through the use of personal stories. These stories put faces, personalities and humanity back into the mix. People engage an identifiable cause because of a personal connection to the cause.
Opportunity to Engage: Invite others to walk with you
Why is it so difficult to volunteer time at certain places? Why does a donation come with strings attached? Organizations make it very difficult at times to serve and participate. Remember this key phrase from Royce: willingly and thoroughly devotes himself. Creating an opportunity to engage first requires knowing what the organization needs. The easy answer is money. That may also the most difficult way to secure engagement—especially sustainable engagement. Know which programs need volunteers. Know which committees need members. Know which line items need funding. Know these things and communicate the opportunities. Some volunteers are just waiting to be asked. Others want to be given the chance to choose the type of participation. Involvement of the community should be a strategic goal—as should sustaining those relationships.
Sustainable Devotion: Will they stay despite flying monkeys?
Keep them coming back for more. People like to see the fruits of their labor. Non-profit organizations need to publicize their outcomes. Continue to share the personal stories and maintain the human connection. Here is one more suggestion which appears to be contrary to sustainability: Set service limits. It is easy to work a person to death. To avoid taking advantage of someone’s willingness and thorough devotion, service should be shared and rotated. This can generate a great culture of volunteers and even donors. Oh, yeah, say thank you.
The path to loyalty—identifiable cause, opportunity to engage and sustainable devotion—creates a transformation from “a cause” to “my cause” in the eyes of individuals. There is a line The Wizard of Oz when the gang is singing, “Because, because, because, because, because. Because of the wonderful things he does.” As a non-profit organization focusing on developing loyal supports, the song you should most want to hear is, “My cause, my cause, my cause, my cause, my cause. My cause and the wonderful things it does.”