Dealing With the Disinterested Spouse or Partner
The husband loved the organization. The wife didn’t. But they shared decision-making on donations. How should you handle it?
Or the wife loved the organization, but the husband was offended by a staff member at a recent event and now talks the organization and its staff down. How should you handle this?
A major gift officer wrote to us recently about this dilemma that many MGOs face, in which one partner or spouse does not share the same passion, love and enthusiasm for the cause as the other one does.
This is not unlike a lot of other areas in life where two people, who are together, have some common interests, but they also have a greater list of interests not held in common.
The general operating rule we suggest in this situation is to serve the person whose interests and passions match those of your organization. You cannot be responsible for the other person in the relationship. It is not your job to manage the internal communications or lack of communications of the couple. To put it bluntly, it’s their problem. And you likely cannot fix it, nor should you try.
There are a couple of questions you could ask in a situation where you perceive an unequal interest, and it feels right to ask them:
- You are talking to the interested party, but you perceive the other party is not interested. Your question might sound something like this: “NAME, it is so nice that you are so supportive of our organization and especially the project that helps [beneficiary of project name]. Is [name of other party] interested in it as well?” Then the donor says they aren’t. And you say: “Is it OK if we just talk about it, or is there some way to include him/her?” And you get direction on what to do. Then you proceed in that direction. In other words, seek counsel on how to handle the situation from the interested party.
- You are talking to the interested party and you discover that someone (you or others) has caused a bruise or break in relationship with the other party. The minute you discover that you should apologize and seek counsel on what to do about it. Then take steps to repair the relationship. This often works, but sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, you just have to walk away and keep your relationship going with the person who is interested and engaged.
It is always good, in our opinion, to be appropriately curious about something that is not working relationally. Then, having found out what it is, to seek advice and input from the donor who is friendly and interested, and to take action on that advice and counsel.
The one thing you cannot do is be responsible for the party who does not or will not engage. Do not get pulled into that vortex. It has nothing to do with you. Just because a couple is connected to each other does not mean they both need to be connected to you. And if one party holds the other one hostage on the money, there is nothing you can do about it. Just be kind and compassionate to the donor who loves your organization. Time, and your good attitude, plus giving that donor space, will come back to you in positive ways.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.