The Importance Of The "Human" Answer

Imagine that you work for a small nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women who have been the victims of domestic abuse in your community.

As much as you’d like to help everyone affected by domestic abuse, your organization runs on a tight budget and has a specific mission to offer support services only to women and girls who live within the city limits. So when an abused 14-year-old boy who lives just blocks outside of your city’s borders approaches your group for help, you have to turn him away.

Naturally, you offer him a referral for other groups that may be able to help him. You may even offer to make calls on his behalf. But when the boy shares his grueling story to a reporter and claims you refused to help him, your organization is suddenly cast as the most unpopular group in town.

Heart in palms
I’ve worked with many groups in a similar situation—and their instinct far too often is to offer an answer heavy on facts but light on humanity. In this situation, a typical spokesperson might say:

“Since the Sunshine Society is a women’s-only facility, we’re unfortunately unable to offer help to men. We offered to help this young man by connecting him with another group that works with men, and we are still willing to do everything we can to help him.”

But that statement is a bit cold and lacks the humanity many of us would hope for from an organization approached by an abused child. When I work with clients facing similar situations, I coach them to bring their humanity to the forefront and say something more like this:

“It breaks my heart that we’re not equipped to bring this young man into our facility. It’s moments like these that I wish we had a separate building in which we could house young men and boys who need our services. But I have personally pledged to do everything I can to help him, and I sincerely hope he’ll take me up on that offer. To begin, I’d like to personally accompany him to an appointment with a boy’s facility that has the capacity to give him the help he needs and deserves.”

The public tends to understand sensible policies—but they don’t forgive organizations that respond coolly to people in need. As an example of a cold response that lacked humanity, watch this interview featuring Nancy Brinker, the co-founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Click here if you need a refresher on the Komen crisis before watching.)