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The Philosopher

nonprofit fundraising

Last week I wrote about how Aristotle's thoughts on ethos, pathos, and logos can help fundraisers create stronger, more persuasive asks. This week I turn to Aristotle again for this first post in a three-part series about understanding, creating, and maintaining connection in nonprofit fundraising. Next week we'll look at connection through the lens of The Scientist and then in the last post of the series through the work of The Teacher.

We humans are built to connect. In fact, one of our basic psychological needs is to create connection with others. Throughout the ages and across the globe celebrated, creative thinkers have studied and written about the vital role a sense of connection plays in our human experience and existence.

The Philosopher

Aristotle lived between 384 and 322 BC. He wrote and released much of his work between 335 and 323 BC. His Poetics was published around 335 BC. Poetics is one of the earliest and has been described as one of the most influential works that explores how art is made and the role it should play in our lives. Among other forms of art he considers in Poetics, Aristotle wrote about comedy and tragedy in the theatre. Of course a treatise on the theatre would not be complete without a healthy discussion about the actor.

Aristotle suggests in Poetics that inherent in all humans is the need to mimic, to imitate. As creatures who thrive on imitation, we are naturally drawn to acting. “Imitation [acting] is natural to man from childhood…he is the most imitative creature in the world and learns at first by imitation.” He goes on to say, “As to the origin of the poetic art [theatre and acting] as a whole, it stands to reason that two operative causes brought it into being, both of them rooted in human nature. Namely (1) the habit of imitating is congenital to human beings from childhood and so is (2) the pleasure that all men take in works of imitation.”

In other words, based on our main mode of learning through imitation we are natural born actors. We learn language by imitating the people we hear around us. We learn new skills by mimicking the people teaching us. We learn social norms by copying the norms of our tribe or community. Mimicking, put another way, acting as if, is how we learn as children and of course how actors approach the whole of their work. We are all born with the instinct to imitate. This leads to a higher level of understanding. Our ability to understand increases our capacity for empathy. It is our ability and willingness to empathize with and in our world that leads to genuine, authentic, deep connection to others.

In addition to his thoughts on our inherent inclination to act, Aristotle wrote in Politics that humans are by nature social animals. He went further adding, “Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” Again, in other words, a large part of what makes us human is our inner drive to connect with other humans in meaningful ways.

So, we all act every day and this trait leads us to connect with others. We act and connect differently based on the environment we are in at any given moment and the people in that environment. We act a certain way with our partners, another way when we are with our parents, and yet another way when we are with our coworkers. You act, play different parts through which you connect with others. This is natural. It is genetic. It is unavoidable. It is human.

What can nonprofit fundraisers learn from this? Accept Aristotle's ancient wisdom and embrace these most human of traits. By doing so and learning to do them well in service of good with truth, authenticity, understanding, and empathy centerstage, you can't help but become a more confident well-balanced fundraiser. In turn, advancing your organization’s mission.

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