What to Do When You and Your Donor Lack Chemistry
Capital campaigns rely extensively on large gifts. It’s common for 50 percent or more of the campaign goal to come from 10 gifts. So, the success of your campaign will depend on your ability to build strong relationships with the people who might make those gifts.
Sounds simple, and we often talk about it as though it were. But relationships—whether with donors, partners, friends or colleagues—are never simple.
Do You Need Personal Chemistry to Form Donor Relationships?
This question, recently sent to me from Sara, a very capable executive director, caught my attention.
I know I should be having fun, informative and challenging conversations with my top donors. But what should I do about the donors I don’t really have a strong connection with… the ones where the personal chemistry just isn’t there?
Should I have someone else in my organization meet with them? Should I just suck it up and pretend we are on the same page?"
My immediate response to her question was this:
"Chemistry matters, Sara. You can’t fake it.
That said, your relationships with donors are not primarily personal—they are professional. It’s wonderful and fun when you 'connect' with a donor, but that’s not always the case. Whether donors like you or not matters less than whether they trust you and are behind your vision for the organization."
The more I thought about Sara’s question, the more complex and important it seemed to me.
What 5 Thought Leaders Have To Say About Chemistry (or Lack Thereof)
How can a leader be expected to build strong, authentic relationships with all sorts of people — some who agree with her vision and others who don’t? Some with whom she has chemistry and others with whom she doesn’t?
Words of Wisdom About Building Donor Relationships
So I asked five colleagues*—all leaders in the field—for their thoughts. Here are some wonderful nuggets I pulled from their responses. I think you will find helpful.
- You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay.
- You are the leader of the organization, and you can’t delegate or subcontract the relationships with your top donors to someone else.
- While you may not "connect" with some of your top donors, you can show genuine appreciation and gratitude for their investment in the work of your organization.
- You should prioritize your donor work not according to personal preference, but based on the donor’s capacity and inclination to give. Learn their interests and passions and serve them outrageously.
- You have a responsibility to your top donors, not to be their friend, but to be the steward of their resources and the leader of your team.
- Don’t pretend to agree or connect with a donor personally. That can’t be faked. But you should be able to find common ground in your shared passion for your organization.
- Discuss the differences you have with a donor and if possible, resolve them. If you can’t, then agree to disagree or part ways professionally.
- Wildly differing personalities can peacefully coexist when everyone focuses on what really matters—the work!
- Understanding your personality and patterns will broaden your range of responses to donors of many different types.
- The worst thing you can do is to avoid the issues and hope they go away. Unless you deal with them, they never will.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.