Being Donor-Centered: The Trouble With Some Donors
You know as an avid reader of this blog that Richard and I are always talking about being donor-centered, having a donor-centered approach for your major gift program and being donor-centered in your communications as you build a trusted relationship with your donor.
But… there are major gift officers (MGOs) out there right now, most likely, you included, who have donors in your portfolio that are just either difficult to work with or just plain don’t like for one reason or another.
I want to be clear. I’m not talking about abusive donors. Richard has written on that subject and if you have an abusive donor, you should deal with it immediately and talk with your manager.
The difficult or “donor you don’t like” donor can be a problem for you because you still have an obligation as their MGO to work with them to identify their passion and interests and help them change the world with all the great programs and projects you have to change the world.
But, if you’re honest, you tend to avoid them.
I recall a time when I was a development director for a nonprofit in Philadelphia, and I had this situation. I had a donor that was always negative, gruff and, at times, made it difficult on me because when he “needed” information and he always wanted it now—no matter what I had going on.
What I found myself doing was avoiding him as much as I could. But this was a big problem because he happened to be our largest donor! At some point, I knew I would have to figure this out because I was no longer treating him like my other donors. With the donors I liked, I was proactive with. I sent information, thanked them and built solid relationships with them.
I had to figure out what I was going to do.
So, here is what I did, and it may help you as you deal with a difficult or “donor you don’t like.”
- First, I met with my manager. I admitted to my manager that I was having a problem with this donor. He understood, because he, too, had similar problems with him. Together, we came up with a plan to meet with him, talk through the issues and provide some solutions. In other words, we came up with a strategy to “right the relationship.”
- I took time to understand that we are all broken. I’ve heard other MGOs lament about their donors that they had a bunch of “wealthy people” on their caseload who feel entitled and think they can do or say anything they want. This is kind of how I felt about the donors I was having a problem with. However, I realized that whether you have great wealth or are poor and living on the street, we all broken in some way and have fears, anxieties and pain that come out in hurtful, negative ways. I took time to reflect on this as it related to my tough donor. In fact, it was my manager who urged me to think about how broken this donor was and to see if together we could have grace for him.
- I faced the problem. I set up a meeting with the donor, my manager (who was the CEO) and myself and we confronted the donor about his behavior. We were gracious, open and honest. I have to admit to you, I was afraid that we would lose our largest donor. But, knowing that my CEO was on board with this strategy helped greatly. In short ,the donor was surprised and was unaware of his actions. But, he actually thanked us for bringing it to him, and it re-set the relationship.
- I changed my approach after the face-to-face meeting, I no longer avoided this donor. I really went overboard to be proactive, thank, report back and to stay in touch with him on a consistent basis. While his behavior wasn’t perfect, he made a huge effort and our relationship changed to have respect and kindness toward each other.
So, when I look back at that situation what worked for me was that 1) stopped avoiding a difficult person, 2) I came up with a strategy that included my manager and 3) we had a real and honest conversation with the donor.
And, it worked. Quite frankly, this same approach can be used on just about any relationship. Yet, your avoiding these donors because you either are like me who didn’t like confrontation or you’re afraid you’ll lose the donor.
I understand that fear. However, you don’t want to work or live in that kind of fear every day. To get over it you have to do a difficult thing. One that I wanted to avoid, but ultimately knew had to be done.
I know you have a donor or donors in your file right now who are difficult. I implore you to talk to your manager, create a strategy, put yourself in the donor’s shoes and, if appropriate, talk to donor about their behavior.
It will do you and the donor so much good.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.