My mom passed away last week. Peaceful woman, salt of the earth, respected with a great sense of humor. Not only was she my mother, she was also the loving mother to 8 children, 26 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. By all accounts, I considered her a tremendous influencer to many – not just to her sixty offspring, but to her community of friends, neighbors and family for whom she cared so much.
My mom was the quintessential charity donor – not one of the wealthy ones who give millions and who transform the work of a charity or community through her donations, but one of the millions of every day women who have been the bread and butter to most of our charities. For those of you who seek to engage the female target audience like my Mom, the passing of her generation no doubt weighs on your mind as you think about how you’ll engage a younger audience who think and behave differently.
So I’d like to pay tribute to my mom as I think about my future and the future in general without her. However, I’d like to expand this beyond me and my mother and think about how the loss of one person has an impact on an individual, a community and the charities that person has chosen to support and align themselves with throughout their lifetime.
I’ve been trying to imagine what my life will be like without my mom. Through our tears, my seven siblings and I sat with her through her final days contemplating this very question over and over again. Ordinarily, one might think sharing such a conversation to be a morbid one to share on my cause marketing blog. But in fact if you can’t get personal you miss all that you’re witness to in life. In the case of my siblings and myself, we were witness to our mother’s amazing peace in her final days, which was partly strengthened by the peaceful and gentle woman she was, knowing she was ready to go and her unshakable faith in God. So instead of being devastated by such a huge loss, we were all with her in what my friend Maria called, “an end-of-life experience we all hope for.”
I grew up on a farm where my dad and mom awoke at 6am every morning to go milk the cows. Mom would then be back at the house in time to make all of us 8 children breakfast and see us off to school by 8am. Since she was a stay at home mom, we came home to great home cooked meals, fresh bread and often my favorite – chocolate cake. I honestly don’t know how she did it. But we were actually a typical family in our Prince Edward Island community.
Typical isn’t that typical any more on most fronts in today’s world. One of the problems is, for most charities is that “typical” is changing and many are not ready for these changes and what it means. Many charities are asking themselves what it will mean when my mom’s generation passes – only for different reasons than me and my siblings ask it. Traditional moms who have given every day loving bread and butter donations for decades are passing on. Now what? What does the next generation of mom donors look like and how will they engage in charities as every day supporters?
It’s not that moms of the future are any less loving than mine, or that they aren’t interested in community or in the social well-being of their family, community and country. But their typical generational attitudes are vastly different than in the past as expectations shift about what they want out of life. (And make no mistake, the next generation DOES care “what’s in it for me”…more than my mom’s generation tended to.”)
Of course, with attitudinal shifts also come behavioral shifts. Take my five sisters, and their daughters, for example. They are social media savvy – using it to keep in touch and not just on their computers. I’ve noticed them one-by one trading in their traditional phones for smart phones where they chat, bank online, trade photos and a host of things my Mom never even thought of. (This is true of men as well, but today, I’m just talking about moms and those who seek to engage them.) And my young nieces – future moms – most of them have their own smart phones and do most of their communication that way, not even on the computer. One has to wonder how emotional connections evolve as we move from in-person communication to mobile communication.
But emotions still can be conveyed in the online world. Last week, not to be trite, but we even grieved online when my Mom passed. When I uploaded an album of eight photos “in honor of my Mom,” I received an outpouring of support from people everywhere – all who cared for us and what our family was feeling – many of them wanted to express their own grief at the loss of their friend or relative. My family was touched at the hundreds of comments and “likes” we received. In the past, these all would have been shared either in person at a visitation, by a card in the mail, or by a phone call.
So what does this mean for the future of charities wishing to win over the support of women like my sisters and nieces – the Moms of the future? I don’t want to stretch my analogy here but there are at least three lessons I learned from saying goodbye to my Mom. These three lessons are good for my personal life, but I realize they are also true in my work.
1. Let go of the past.
One of the hardest things about saying goodbye to my mom is to say actually say the words, “good-bye.” But, I have learned that there’s no point in hanging on to what was. It’s important to look forward. I was recently talking with one of Canada’s acclaimed women business leaders, Annette Verschuren who was well-known as recent Home Depot CEO in Canada. She shared a lesson that is relevant when she said, “I see things through the windshield, not through the rear view mirror.” In other words – Don’t live in the past. I can’t help but wonder how charities will do in letting go of my mother and millions like her as the years pass on.
2. Try new things.
Just a few years ago, who’d have thought we’d be grieving online, as I shared our family did. No one thought we were being inappropriate. They were grateful and it was an outlet for their own emotion. And they shared their own stories about mom. One of the lessons we need to learn when we’re using new media for our charities is that when you have a real story to tell, it can be told naturally and isn’t forced. So the lesson is – find your stories, share them, and let people engage on their own terms.
3. Be brave.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do. As I travelled home to PEI to be with my mom in her last few days, I was so scared. But moms have a way of calming us down and there were so many ways that my mom gave me strength. When I arrived home just five days before she died, the delighted look on her face said it all as did the brave smiles she gave us right up until the last day. It helped our family so much.
Through each of these three lessons, while each of them is different, they all have a common theme – embrace the future. It’s not really as scary as we worry it might be.