Wisdom Wednesdays: Finding Donor Centricity and Theology in a YouTube Rabbit Hole

by Joe Lindell

Looking back at the 11 ALDE International Educational Conferences I’ve attended since Kansas City in 1998, there are a handful of keynote speeches I can still recall.  I happily look back at talks by Tony Campolo (author, speaker, pastor), the late Jim Wacker (football coach) and John List (the economics professor, not the mass murderer).

Now — hold that thought, I’ll get back to a keynote speech eventually.

For years, I’ve been receiving an email newsletter from direct mail expert Tom Ahern.  I’d include him on my short list of direct mail gurus, along with Mal Warwick.  If you want to understand what donor-centric communications look like and learn how to create donor-centric pieces, he gives it away for free, in a consistently excellent email newsletter and website.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good YouTube Rabbit Hole?

Lindell-Joe-2013In Ahern’s September 25, 2013 newsletter, he was explaining why he is committed to giving to PBS, even though he and his wife don’t watch it — because it “matches [their] values.”  He is grateful it exists.  To express his joy, he links first to a video of the Hallelujah Chorus.  The article concludes with links to his two favorite videos of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, sung first by Jeff Buckley and then (he and his wife’s favorite), sung by K.D. Lang. Before the end of the newsletter, Ahern can’t help going further down the rabbit hole, with links to two more versions, “Intense and oddball actor” John Malkovich, and a live performance by Cohen himself.

I immediately remembered a tremendous moment from one of the 2011 ALDE conference keynote speeches in Portland.  Theologian, church historian, pastor and author Leonard Sweet shared what has become, perhaps, my all-time favorite YouTube video: Hallelujah (Free Hugs).  The video combines the wonderful Leonard Cohen song, sung by Alexandra Burke with Free Hugs — in a beautiful Italian piazza.

Don’t watch it yet—hang on!

I couldn’t help myself.  I sent him an email:

From: Joe Lindell
To: Tom Ahern
Sent: Wed, Sep 25, 2013 1:30 pm
Subject: My favorite Hallelujah video

Hello Tom,

Thanks for the newsletter. I always appreciate your ideas. You’re helping our organization become more donor-centric. Even our President and CEO thinks about donor-centricity now when evaluating her own writing.

My favorite Hallelujah YouTube wasn’t mentioned, so I’ll include it here. Watching it is a two-step process.

1.    Find a box of tissues.
2.    Watch “Hallelujah (Free Hugs).”

That first step is very important.  You might want to watch it at home, to avoid awkward workplace conversations about why you’re weeping.

A Metaphor for Grace

I don’t remember Sweet’s exact point, but there’s something sublime about combining the song and the unexpected joy on the faces of the people receiving hugs that gives me hope for the future.  Sharing hugs with strangers is an apt metaphor for God’s abundant grace.  It fits nicely into Lutheran theology as well.  Just as you need not be ordained to serve God, you don’t need a special permit to share God’s love and grace with others, whether they’re strangers or your best friends.

As a development professional, I aim to bring joy to donors.  Ahern often says, “Put the donor in the center, as the hero.”  Who doesn’t want to be the hero?

Twenty-two minutes later …

I received a reply. He thought it was “brilliant.” (He also was grateful I included step one). That was cool.

Then, in his next newsletter, October 9, 2013, there was a little note on the side:

On the YouTube beat…
One more time

In the last issue, we got a little “Hallelujah” festival going, with a bunch of videos of that great Leonard Cohen song. Joe Lindell wrote to point me toward one more version, his favorite. He warned me, “Find a box of tissues.” He was right. See for yourself.

ALDE Changes Lives

Without ALDE:

  • I probably never would have seen my favorite video
  • I wouldn’t have shared it with a stranger
  • That stranger definitely wouldn’t have sent it out to all his subscribers

Thanks to ALDE, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Sweet and Tom Ahern for spreading the joy and sharing a little with me!

Joe Lindell is Annual Giving Manager at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul, Minn.  He and his wife Anne live in St. Louis Park with their two sons.


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