Being Authentic: The Only Way You Can Be as a Major-Gifts Officer
One of the greatest struggles as a major-gifts officer, and for colleagues who work with major donors, is to be authentic. By being authentic, I mean being true to yourself and your motives when working with your donors.
People with vast amounts of money are naturally skeptical about the motives of those they encounter. Put yourself in their shoes. There are always people around them either wanting something from them or being asked for help. It's hard to know whom can be trusted. "Do they really seek a relationship, or do they just want my money? Are they really interested in helping me find an expression for my charitable interests?" I've talked to many wealthy individuals, and this concern is on their minds constantly.
It really all boils down to "Who can I trust?" and "What do they want from me?" That is definitely not an easy space in which to live. With this bit of understanding about your donors, what does being authentic with them look like?
- Always representing to donors the truth about your relationship with them. You are not the donor's best friend — you are the donor's representative to the organization she supports. The donor sets the parameters of the relationship. Some may want to engage with you in a more personal way, and others may want the relationship to be strictly business.
- Constantly thinking about what you can do for your donor. As you cultivate or steward a relationship with a donor, it's easy for you to lapse into thinking about ways your donor can fund this or that project. Resist that temptation. Instead, turn it around and work on how you and the organization can be of help to the donor. Why? Because donors are not going to expect it and it's the right thing to do. And it will always end up in ways that they could fund a project.
- Respect the tension of the "law of reciprocity." Reciprocity is a powerful force in relationships. You do something for me, and I feel the need to balance the scale and repay you in some way. Be aware of this dynamic in the relationships you have with your donors. Remember, in your position, you are trying to deepen the relationship and engagement of your donor to your organization because he has a passion for it. You have to handle that responsibility carefully, remaining true to your motives. If your actions aren't about deepening the relationship, then you are not being true to your position or to the organization.
- Be you. I've heard some nightmare stories of major-gifts officers misrepresenting themselves to donors and destroying the relationships donors have with the organization. Why do MGOs do this? My guess is fear: fear that if donors see the truth, they will run away or decide not to fund a project. Major-gifts donors can see through fake people. Why? Because they run into them all the time and expect it. Be yourself. Be real with people.
- Don't lie. You would think this is obvious. But, let me tell you, I've run into many situations where major-gifts officers have hidden the truth or flat-out lied about something to a donor and it's backfired, big time. Just recently, I heard of a situation where a project that a donor was funding was completely shut down. The major-gifts officer and the organization kept it from the donor. The event happened six months earlier! Again, fear. Don't you think that donor would have appreciated hearing the truth, even if that truth was bad news? Of course.
- Love, huh? Yes, love your donors whether they fund your project or not. It's not easy when a donor says no. You want to move on to someone else. But you need to respect that donor's decision and realize that he or she needs to be treated like your other donors: with respect, care and love. Most donors would expect that you would treat them differently now that you aren't "hot" for their gifts. This is why as an authentic major-gifts officer you are going to treat that donor just as well as all of your donors until that donor no longer desires a relationship. There are countless stories of donors saying no, witnessing the response of gratitude from the organization anyway, then later giving even more than originally asked.
Now, after having read these, can you honestly say that you are being authentic in your relationships with your donors? I hope you can answer, "YES!" I realize this is not easy. My business partner and I are constantly keeping each other accountable to being authentic in our relationships with each other and with our clients. And to live being authentic is really to live in freedom. I think that is a place where all of us want to be.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.