5 Ways to Deal With Arrogance in Major Gifts Fundraising
1. Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance.
2. Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one's superiority toward others.
You've met them. They're everywhere — buried inside so many good organizations. People puffed up with unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem; people who regularly show scorn and contempt for others; folks who are domineering, overbearing and downright difficult to like.
And many of them are managers and leaders. I don't know how they got there. In the company I owned, I would weed these people out, no matter how good they were!
But there they are, and you have to deal with it.
Why am I talking about this, and how does it relate to major gifts?
Well, two things. First, I have been seeing a lot of it recently, and it has me thinking. Secondly, there is something that can happen to a major-gifts offier (MGO) when he or she lands a large gift that I want to inoculate all MGOs against so it doesn't happen to them.
And, by extension, when a major gifts program is successful, I have seen managers and leaders just change before my very eyes into arrogant monsters. Not all of them, but enough so it merits writing about it.
Why does this happen?
Well, I'm not a psychologist, but I know enough about myself and my journey to know that I used to think most of my success was about me. Used to. Then as I went through the counseling I needed to go through and discovered how desperately inadequate I felt — how low my self-esteem was — and how I was awkwardly trying to give myself value by grabbing as much attention and credit as I possibly could.
I remember, in the early days of the company my business partner and I founded, I was so jealous of the attention my partner was receiving as a result of getting clients for the business (sales) that I insisted I play a major role in sales even though I wasn't good at it!
My business partner graciously allowed me to make a fool of myself by letting me play a major role in a sales presentation for a large prospective client. I messed it up royally and was so embarrassed. It wasn't until later in our business relationship that I found peace with my gifts and my role and was able to not do this attention-grabbing thing I was doing way too frequently.
So one reason for the arrogance could be the person thinks it's really all about him or her.
Another one is fear. I have seen MGOs, major gifts managers and grant writers who are filled with so much fear about their jobs, their performance or the performance of a colleague who is so much better than them that they fill their environment with bluster and swag as if that will protect them or change the circumstances they find themselves in.
Another reason for arrogance could be simple lack of awareness. (I'm trying to be really generous here!) A MGO has been working hard with a donor, and the donor finally decides to give a large gift. BAM! — the MGO thinks it's all about him or her. And so the MGO struts around like a rooster in a henhouse, loudly displaying all his or her achievements in this situation.
MGOs like this are not aware of the rather mystical, I would say, mysterious, thing that happened in the donor's heart and mind that caused the gift. True, the MGO made the case and presented it. But I think that is less than half the reason the gift actually happened. It was the donor who found comfort and connection with the idea — it was the donor who found fulfillment and outlet for his or her feelings of compassion and caring for our planet and its people. It was the donor who opened up his or her heart and hands and let the funds spill out and bless the organization.
Goodness! How we forget about the donor!
Just to be clear, I am not saying a MGO should not take satisfaction with securing a large gift. Nope. It is a fact that, had it not been for that MGO's actions, the transaction would likely not have occurred. So that is something to be proud of and feel good about.
In fact, when MGOs call me and tell me about a gift coming in, I genuinely celebrate with them in a loud, generous and dramatic way. And I build them up and tell them they have done good work. I also remind them how thankful we need to be for the donor's generosity.
So, how should we deal with arrogance in the major gifts workplace? Here are my suggestions:
- When you see it try to move from a place of judgment to a place of compassion. This is very difficult to do, especially if you are experiencing the effects of the person's arrogance. I try to look past the behavior to the heart of the person. She is hurting. He is feeling alone. She feels small even though she is trying to look big. Move toward compassion.
- Talk about these thoughts and principles in your workplace. Do it in meetings. Do it in your emails. Fill your place with thoughts about serving, about the special role of the donor, about humility. Model the behavior. It will catch on.
- When a large gift comes in because of work you've done, fall on your face with thankfulness and humility. I don't mean to do that literally, although you could. I mean in your heart. Sit for a moment with the wonderful thing that has just happened. Marvel at the greatness of it — that someone could part with that sum of money; that you have been blessed to be a part of it; that something really special just happened that will bring tremendous joy to others; and that you are so lucky to have a job that brings you so much joy and fulfillment.
- Quietly thank yourself for the good job you have done. And be ready to receive the thanks of others. You deserve it. You have been part of something big and meaningful.
- Watch yourself. So you don't take all of this too seriously or so you don't take too much of the credit. Be balanced about it. Even talk to others about the important role the donor played. And the important role others played, like helping you write up a case, etc. Just watch yourself so you don't go down a track of getting puffed up. Also, keep in mind that, as humans, our natural tendency is to be ego-driven. And, often, when the ego is in the driver's seat, the team is dishonored, people are hurt, everyone is made small and the organization suffers. There is one situation right now Jeff and I are aware of where the top person is so consumed with herself and her ability to raise money that she's resorted to asking for six- and seven-figure gifts via email. And the donors are getting very upset. This is a situation where the MGO needs to watch herself — she is totally out of control.
We are so lucky to be involved in this kind of work! Every morning when I wake up, I start my day feeling thankful for life, for those who love me, for the lessons I am learning from those who don't like me and the hard situations I face, and for the work I get to do. What a great place to be!
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.