Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Not Preaching To The Choir

As I mentioned last week, our most recent Imagine! Celebration was a success by almost any measure.

In the post linked above, I listed several measures of success. But today, I’d like to share another measure of success – how many people in attendance were not part of the I/DD world.

I have often found that at fundraisers for non-profit organizations (not just those that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities), the audiences tend to be primarily insiders – that is, those whose lives are closely tied in with the needs of the organization itself. In the I/DD world, this may mean family members, services providers, regulators, etc.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Of course the people who have the biggest stake in a non-profit’s work are likely to be the ones who most vigorously support that work. However, if part of an organization’s goal is spread the word about their work and its importance in the community, the risk of a segregated and insider audience is that there is an element of preaching to the choir, and it is likely that the message is not getting beyond those who have already heard, received, and believe in the message the non-profit is sending.

I have always said that the work Imagine! does is essentially a community building endeavor. That community can’t be built if only one segment of the community is part of the construction crew. It takes a village. That is why I was so excited to look out across the ballroom during the Imagine! Celebration and see so many unfamiliar faces. It’s the people I didn’t recognize that I was happiest to know that they were joining us. Many of the new attendees were young professionals or business and community leaders from different sectors who weren’t very familiar with our work. They weren’t the choir – they were new to our message, and to our mission.

The message we shared at the event was one that I think resonated with an audience that wasn’t comprised mainly by those already aware of our work. We didn’t describe the individuals we serve as “vulnerable.” Using a word like “vulnerable” doesn’t emphasize possibilities. It doesn’t highlight strengths. It promotes what people are not. It doesn’t do anything to move us forward in the effort to create a world of opportunity for all abilities.

Instead, during the entire evening of the Imagine! Celebration we emphasized what people with I/DD can do.

That message was no more clear than in the video debuted that evening telling the story of Shelly, who accepts services from Imagine! (I’ve shared the video below). Despite the many challenges in Shelly’s life, in this video you won’t hear words or phrases describing how sad it is that Shelly uses a wheelchair or that her disabilities prevent her from leading a fulfilling life. Instead, you’ll hear phrases like “no stranger to danger” or see clips of her schussing down the slopes of a local ski area. 

To be clear, I deeply appreciate the support of the people who have been part of the Imagine! family and the Imagine! Celebration for years. And I hope it continues for many more. But they already know that people like Shelly can, and do, live fulfilling lives of meaning and purpose. Sometimes folks outside of our little bubble aren’t as aware of the capabilities of a person like Shelly. If we can share that lesson with them, we can get ever closer to truly creating a world of opportunity for all abilities.

Then again, what do I know?

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