The Little Person in Each MGO
We were sitting in the main conference room high above the city doing some major gift training with a fantastic group of major gift officers. The training was about asking for the gift—a session we regularly conduct with our clients.
The MGOs sitting around the table were a mixture of seasoned professionals and employees newer to major gifts. Part of our session had been the day before, where we were dealing with the reasons MGOs do not ask donors for what they could give. We had explored what causes fear and how to overcome it. Now we were starting a new day with the final part of the training.
We all sat down, and I was just getting ready to start when Robert spoke up and said, “If you don’t mind, Richard, I have something I would like to share with the group that I have been thinking about overnight.”
I told him to go ahead. He paused for a bit, then said, “I have to confess that when we were talking yesterday about being bold and courageous in asking—I have to confess that I have been afraid to do that. Even when I know the person loves what we do and I know they have the capacity to give a lot, I find myself afraid to face the possibility that they will say 'no' and that I will experience rejection. And that fear grips me. So I stay safe and I don’t do what I know I should.”
He paused again and then, with some emotion, said, “And I think I have let the organization down and let each of you down.”
It was quite a moment.
I let the last sentence sink in and then I said, “Robert, first of all, thank you for having the courage to say that. I know it helps you. But it also helps the rest of us, because at some level we are all afraid. We all have a little person inside that doesn’t want to hurt or fail or experience rejection. And the fact that you have come out and just said it really helps!”
There are so many areas in life, both personal and professional, where fear grips and keeps us stalled, frozen and ineffective. I am keenly aware of what those are in my life and I am constantly dealing with it.
What was so helpful about Robert’s confession of his fear is that he brought to light a subject that is rarely talked about in major gifts—that subject of inner voices that direct us at a deeper level. Often they direct us towards light and good. Other times they take us to dark places.
There is likely someone reading this that is impatiently saying, “Ah, come on. Let’s get back to the real stuff! All of this chatter about emotions and inner voices is just a crock! Come on, step it up and get real! There is so much more important stuff to be talking about than this!”
And I would reply, “Yes, sir or madam, there is a lot of important stuff to talk about, and right now you are showing me how out of touch you are with yourself. Your feigned strength is only a cover up for your great fear and your great need. So, please stop and listen to what I am trying to say here.”
The fact is that every one of us has a little boy or little girl inside that is constantly talking to us about their fears. And those voices can get pretty loud sometimes, drowning out reason and practicality—which is why I like to talk about it and why, I believe, it is so important to do so.
What do these little people often look like? Here are the ones I have encountered in my work and life journey:
- The scared little person. This person spends a great deal of their time, every day and night, worrying about what could go wrong. In fact, more time is spent on managing what might happen versus what could happen. In major gifts, this person doesn't try anything—they mostly maintain their caseload and react to donors versus take initiative.
- The angry little person. This person is deeply angry with a lot of things. But in major gifts, this person is fundamentally upset that others are successful and wealthy. And so there is resentment about the success of the donor, which makes for a very difficult relationship.
- The know-it-all. This person has done everything and tried everything, and there is nothing you can tell him or her about how to improve their productivity in major gifts. I have dealt with many of these little people, and I have to keep reminding myself that this apparent arrogance is really fear.
- The little person who feels inadequate. This person doesn't have enough training, doesn't know how to do things, doesn't have the information, doesn't have cooperation from others, doesn't have support of management, etc. And these are the reasons they don't do what they should.
- The little person who can't take criticism. This person is very defensive. Every suggestion or idea is met with a wall. It is very hard to guide this person down a track of success without encountering many blocks and difficulties.
- The lonely little person. This person is starved for relationships and spends most of his or her time with donors filling their needs versus doing the work. In fact, some of these relationships get so off point and deep that they are very difficult to unravel.
These are just a few of the little people I have met. I am sure there are many more, but you can see that the common theme in each of them is fear. Fear is what grips and ruins us—all of us. And that is why it is so good to face it, just like Robert did.
You may have all the technical knowledge about major gifts. You may have years of experience. You may have a great cause to present to donors. You may have a caseload of the best donors. But you will fail because fear grips you.
This is why it is important to be kind and compassionate to the little person inside. Help them with their fears and assure them everything will be OK. Believe me, once you take care of this business you have no idea how much better you will feel and how much easier and happier your work will become.
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.