Climb for Air: Help People Remember Why They Need You

Imagine that you’re climbing in the stairwell of the tallest building in your city. You are 29 floors high, but not done. Huffing and puffing, you place one foot in front of the other, pulling yourself upward. Your calf muscles scream. Behind you, the friend who talked you into the race pants — more than you. You like this in him. Between huffs, you both vow never to speak to an ex-friend whose heels you last saw as you turned a corner three floors ago.

As you climb and take deep full breaths, do you appreciate your lungs?  It is likely you do. It is even more likely that you’ve developed your appreciation of the organization that works to help everyone have healthy lungs. Your climb is part of an American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb. This Tampa event draws 1,000 participants who pay or raise around $125 each to climb one of the city’s highest buildings. Other communities hold similar events to support the American Lung Association in stadiums, arenas, and skyscrapers.

How can you use this idea? You might create an event that requires physical skills like the Climb for Air, or explore ways to use different city venues. Or, you might look deeper, study the strategies behind the Climb for Air, and adapt them to your own income-related experience to help your community to appreciate your work and to have an it’s-a-wonderful-organization kind of experience about your nonprofit.

In the movie of a similar name, George Baker, with the help of the angel Clarence, receives the privilege of seeing what the world would be like if he had not lived. At the end of the movie, George, overjoyed by the fruits of his life, understands, “It’s a wonderful life.” When they grow weary and frustrated trying to change lives, nonprofit leaders need this message. What’s more, your communities need to remember what it would be like without your nonprofit and, in turn, why their support is vital. You can, like the angel Clarence, help your community to experience this.

Part of the wonderful-organization strategy is to create something memorable to help people see why you are needed, since the human brain is challenged to remember what it’s like when something’s missing.  A second part is to link this opportunity to providing your nonprofit with new income.

What might a “without” effort look like? Here are examples to stimulate thinking:

  • A nonprofit that serves people who have hearing disabilities develops an event about sound and “the sounds of silence.” The next year, it teams up with a mime group to remember the joy of hearing and to celebrate the skills of those who live in silence.
  • A group that serves the sight impaired offers a theater-in-the-dark experience in conjunction with their local playhouse.
  • A museum covers donated art with drapes to show what would be missing on donor appreciation day. During a members-only-thank-you-event, the pieces are unveiled. Likewise, to celebrate the founder on their birthday, the pieces given by this individual are hidden until the birthday celebration.
  • Another site prominently displays empty exhibit cases with a (photo) negative of the desired gift and sponsor information.
  • A nonprofit opens ten minute late on its busiest day. The time passes quickly for waiting patrons. Five people from the community share an original piece of art that expresses what the organization means to them. People vote for their favorite with a purchased ticket. Appropriate pieces are sold in an on-line auction.
  • An environmental group digs through its archives to create a special display of what their land looked like before they worked on it. Another organization that lacks “before pictures” compares itself to a distant neglected bay with a collection box. A third group photo-shops pictures of what their bay would look like without their work and displays it so it covers its bay-view windows. Miniatures of this view are included in the appeal letter. Supporters are challenged to Bring-Back-The-Bay with donations.

Your nonprofit will want to develop its own unique approach to “What would it be like if we didn’t exist?” Or, its counterpart experience, “What is it like to need our mission?” In both cases, help people to imagine life without you and earn income while doing it. Use these two questions to explore this strategy still further:

1. What does your mission allow people to experience that they would miss if you were not here?

2. What does your mission prevent that most people in the community do not personally experience?

Take your answers and let your angel or muse help you to develop experiences for your nonprofit. Knowing a strategy to use is only one step in obtaining more resources for your nonprofit, but it is an extremely important one.

Every day, good non-profit organizations find ways to improve their funding streams. One way to improve your income is to help your community remember why you are so important. Even if this type of experience fails to fit your needs, regularly strengthen your funding stream so that you too can become and remain a profitable nonprofit.

Our next column is about reaching new people. Can’t wait? Read about the 14 Ways to Create Donor Relationships in 10 Minutes or Less to stimulate your in-between thinking.

Karen Eber Davis is on a mission to help non-profit leaders generate sustainable income. Her work is known for its innovation. To help clients fulfill their goals in creative, effective, and, whenever possible, brilliant ways, she helps them to explore and exploit all of their funding opportunities, and pursue those with the greatest potential – including and beyond the usual strategies and solutions. To learn more, visit