Fundraisers, I’m going to quickly skip over the obligatory, “in these uncertain times” and get right into it: In order to connect with your donors, staff and other key stakeholders in a meaningful way “during these uncertain times,” it’s time to turn up your empathy level to 11.

Connecting meaningfully can take many shapes and forms — from emails, to postcards to personal phone calls to staff check ins.

But before you can truly connect, you have to explore what empathy really means….

The dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” But what that definition misses is that in order to understand and share the feelings of another, you have to first stop and understand your own feelings.

In my work as a leadership coach, I have noticed an extraordinary amount of self-criticism amongst coachees — particularly fundraisers and executive directors. Many times, the coachees are completely unaware of the negative self-talk loop they have running in their heads.

In the time of COVID, I’m seeing that self criticism increase — as leaders struggle to find ground during this time of intense complexity.

But how does personal self-criticism relate to empathy?

When people harbor self-criticism — or any other harsh emotion — for themselves, it’s very difficult to connect to others from a place of openness and connection, which is exactly what you need to be doing right now.

The serpent is eating it’s tail, right? In times of complexity there is increased self-criticism. Increased self-criticism leads to less openness where empathy takes root. In times of complexity, empathy is what people are craving.

One of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh stories goes:

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.”

In your role right now, are you blaming the lettuce? If so, it might be hampering your ability to connect with others.