Respect My Privacy
I had known the principle all along, but my sympathy for the major gifts officer (MGO) had persuaded me that it was OK to do. So I supported the practice of just showing up at a non-responsive donor’s door unannounced bearing gifts and glad tidings.
This changed when I heard three high-capacity donors talk about their reactions to the practice.
Here’s the problem—and it’s not uncommon in the major-gift field. The organization receives a large gift from a donor. The donor is assigned to an MGO, who tries to get in touch using every possible contact strategy known to humankind, and fails. So, in a final “let’s try this and see if it works” strategy, he or she stops by the donor’s house unannounced with a gift.
The strategy works some of the time. But not enough to justify its use.
And hearing donors' reactions was a helpful reminder.
Here is what happened.
I was asked to moderate a session at a conference where three high-net-worth donors sat in front of a roomful of MGOs, development directors and principal gifts officers. The objective of the session was to hear from the donors about how they react to the organization’s treatment of them. It was like a mini focus group—a brilliant idea on the part of the organizer.
The session went well. Then an MGO stood up and asked the following question: “Let’s say you are a donor of mine. And I cannot get in touch with you, i.e. you won’t answer the phone, you won’t respond to my letters and emails—you are just silent. Is it OK with you if I just come by your home unannounced to visit? And I could bring a little gift or something.”
The donor paused for a moment, shifted some papers around on the table in front of him and then said: “You should make an appointment before you come to my house. Don’t show up. Respect my privacy.”
The other donor was a little more blunt: “You can’t even get to my front door.” Her meaning was pretty clear even though she did not say it. “Don’t even try to come to my door.”
I looked at these donors as they were talking and could relate to what they were saying. There is nothing more irritating than having someone come to your home, interrupt what you are doing and push themselves into your life. Think about it. Would you like that? Very few people would.
But there is still a problem. How does an MGO connect with a donor who will not respond to any attempt at communication?
I posed the question to the donors: “OK, I hear you,” I said. “It is not appropriate for MGOs just to show up at your house, but what would you suggest they do? They would like to connect with you. They want to make sure that the organization is handling you properly and that your information needs are met, but you won’t talk to them. What should they do?”
There were two answers:
Call and make an appointment. This one is obvious, but often the MGO gives up too quickly. One of the donors said: “I will eventually answer my phone—don’t email me, I don’t do email—I will eventually answer the phone and you can make an appointment.” Hmm. You will eventually answer the phone? This brings up a practice of mine that I sometimes forget to apply. When I call someone and they don’t answer, I usually (a) don’t leave a message, but try calling again at a different time, and (b) keep trying over a number of days—as opposed to calling once or twice then giving up. People are busy and will not always answer the phone on your first attempt. In fact, their schedules and your attempts may line up on the sixth try. So don’t give up. I had an experience recently where I emailed a person, then called and got no response. I assumed they didn’t want to talk. Poor assumption. So I called again. Then I emailed again. Nothing. So, I waited four days (a random choice) and called again. Bingo. The donor had been out of town. "So sorry not to get back to you," etc. You have to keep trying. And you will know when your number of attempts is too much.
“Approach me through a friend of mine.” This was an interesting suggestion. The donor essentially said, “If you know a friend of mine whom I trust, then work that angle. I don’t know you so I am not likely to engage with you, but if my friend suggests it or he or she comes along to a meeting, that would be good.” Again, not a barn burning, new and dramatic idea—but a good insight into how a high-net-worth donor thinks. And it boils down to a simple equation summed up in this statement: “Just because I gave you a large gift does not mean I want to meet with you, although I might. But I don’t know you. And I am uncomfortable with you just showing up. So work through someone I know who knows you, because that will help me filter you out of all the other contact attempts so many other fundraisers are making.”
Pretty basic stuff, isn’t it? Yet often forgotten. Privacy is a big deal. We all must respect it. But we have a job to do, and that job is to build relationships with our good donors. It is not easy. But Jeff and I think that the best path is to show respect for donors. And we do that by guarding their privacy.
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.