I think one of the greatest struggles for you as a major gift officer, and your 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 who 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 the donor the truth about your relationship with them. You are not their best friend – you are the donor’s representative to the organization they are supporting. The donor will set 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 are cultivating or stewarding 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 re-pay 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 THEY have 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 gift officers misrepresenting themselves to donors and destroying the relationship the donor has with the organization. Why do MGO’s do this? My guess is fear: fear that if a donor sees the truth, they will run away, or decide not to fund a project. Major gift 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 gift 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 gift 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 were 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 gift. This is why as an AUTHENTIC major gift 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!” Richard and I realize this is not easy. The two of us 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.