Eclipse 2017

On August 21, 2017 there was a total solar eclipse that cast a shadow across the entire United States and Charleston, SC was the last city in its path to see the spectacle.

The rays of light surrounding the eclipse were described by one newscaster as the, “Constituencies of light” emanating from the sun. Working with a donor database which considers all of the records in the database, “Constituents” this phrase made sense to me. But I had never heard it used this way and it elicited a past memory. A constituent can be defined as a body of customers or supporters. If a nonprofit is the sun, does it emanate constituencies of light, or does it work the other way, or both?

I remember the day well having spent a few summer weeks onsite reviewing the database of a nonprofit that was founded with the efforts of John F. Kennedy in Washington, DC.  That morning was my big presentation to the leadership and I was to describe what I found in my database research and pitch them on services my company could provide moving forward. This was a big opportunity.

Commuting to the client headquarters that morning in stereotypical Washington, DC fashion I took the Metro and stopped at a local coffee house all the while reviewing my notes and gearing up for my presentation.

When I arrived, I was taken to a large board room filled with the executive leadership who would be deciding, based on my presentation, whether or not to hire me and utilize the services my firm was offering.

After some standard and polite introductions, just as I was getting started, I mentioned the nonprofits constituents, how many they had in their database and the accuracy and structure of their data. Before I could get any further the most senior leader stopped me and asked, “What is a constituent?” Granted, this is a term I have been throwing around for years and rooted in the Raiser’s Edge database that I spend my time working on. But her question threw me off base for a moment, as no one had ever asked me this before, and I assumed it was a common lexicon. I gave her the dictionary definition and some examples, but that question and specific moment stuck with me. A nonprofit leader was asking an amazing question about what her constituent database, her constituents, meant to her and her organization. I think everyone in the room paused for a moment and appreciated her question.

Years later, viewing the eclipse with a heat index nearing 100 degrees, it dawned on me as I heard this new expression and saw the, “Constituencies of light” emanating so dramatically from the sun. It all started making sense.

The many diverse nonprofits that I have worked with over the last twenty years including schools, churches, universities, hospitals, museums, foundations and a multitude of groups like this one that don’t fall neatly into a specific category, are all dependent on their constituents, and most have constituents that greatly depend on them.

Looking up at the sun with some silly looking glasses that warm summer day gave me some time to think about these, “Constituencies of light” and how they impact all of us. Do you know who your constituents are?