How To Use Your Power Correctly

He was used to power and powerful people.  He called me from New York to talk about the position we had open.  Then the conversation took a twist that he did not expect.

This was back in the days when I was the co-owner and manager of one the largest direct marketing agencies in the United States.  My business partner and I had started the agency with a very focused mission statement and distinct set of operating values.

We weren’t just going to hire anyone, no matter how talented they were.  We were hiring people who first passed an “attitude” test, then we looked at aptitude, i.e., what they were good at.

We were on the hunt for a really good person.  I engaged a search firm and placed ads describing the position in most of the major industry papers.

And that’s how it came to be that this gentleman, a very, very talented man from New York, called me.  He had seen the ad and decided to get in touch directly because he felt he fit the qualifications for the job exactly.  He had decided to bypass the process we had set up for vetting people because, well, this would just save time and he was certain that once we saw what he brought to the table we would be convinced that he was our man.

He emailed me his resume and I had to admit it was impressive.  This was, indeed, a very talented guy.  So I asked him some basic questions.  And then gave him my “attitude” test.  Here is what I said:

“Paul (not his real name), I am genuinely impressed with your work history and your talent.  You have a remarkable track record of achievement and success.  Here is what I would like you to do:  come to Seattle, at our expense, and meet with our head of client services.  I would like to see what HE thinks about how you would fit in.”

Paul responded, “That would be great.  Would I also be meeting with you and Tim (the other owner)?”

“No”, I said.  “First I would like for our head of client services to see what he thinks about how you would fit in.”

“Well, I don’t think that would be worth the trip,” Paul said.  “I believe I will fit in just fine.  And, as you can see by my resume, I will be able to contribute a lot to your company.  I think it would be good for us to meet as well.”

I declined the idea and redirected again.  We got into a courteous tug of wills and words as to whether he would meet with me and the other owner.

Little did Paul know, he had failed the attitude test.  So then I said the following: “You know, Paul, I have changed my mind about bringing you out to Seattle.  I actually don’t think you would fit in.  But I appreciate your contacting us and wish you well on your job search.”  And I got off the call.

The thing Paul did not know was that, for these kinds of positions, when I sensed an orientation towards power and self, I always did it this way.  I always suggested that the person come and meet with a senior manager and not me.  If he or she came and did the interview as I suggested and IF the manager thought the person would fit in, I would also schedule a meeting.  This last part was the part that remained hidden in our process.  I wanted to see how the person would react to not being able to access power.

And here is why this one point was important to me.  We had set up a culture that was oriented towards reaching client objectives (focus on others).  We had, explicitly, set up a system where we valued the team (focus on others).  We actually had a values statement that said:  “we value a focus on getting things done vs. a focus on position and power”.

This man, with his “me energy” would have upset the very delicate ecosystem we had created, and I wasn’t about to let it happen.  I had already weeded out other employees and prospective employees who brought with them a high orientation toward self vs. others.  I couldn’t let this man get into the environment.

Now, I want to be clear about one thing.  I am not about hiring weak “yes” people who are cowering, self-deprecating types, only interested in doing anything the boss says.  It’s actually the opposite.  I want strong, independent, powerful people around me, men and women, who will contribute greatly to our collective efforts.  I want opinionated people around who will tell the truth, debate the point, not shy away from conflict and courageously and boldly lead.

But these people must be others oriented and use their power to build up the client, the group and the team.  That is the difference.

I have concluded that people who make a desperate and frantic grab for power are afraid that others will try to manage and control them.  So to avoid that scenario, they must control and manage everyone and everything around them.

I know about this first hand because I have struggled with these same fears.  My early childhood was filled with other people using their power to hurt me.  I have had to learn, through many hours of counseling and the good guidance of close friends, that misusing power because of fear is unproductive, impractical and hurtful.

So what does all this mean to you in your major gift journey?  Here are a few observations:

  1. YOU are a powerful person.  Yes you are!  You might not feel like it, but that is likely because you have allowed others to make you small.  Get on a journey to come into your own power.
  2. Use your power to honor, respect, help and lift up others.  These others include your spouse, significant other, fellow team members, your boss, your kids, your donors, the service people in your life, people on the street – every human being you run into.  And, all the animals in your life as well.  And the earth.  If you are using your power to abuse others, animals, things and the earth, then you are on the wrong track.  Get help to change your course.
  3. In your major gift role, pay particular attention to using your power correctly with donors.  You have information, you have the ability to answer concerns and complaints, you are able to control how quickly a donor is thanked, you can match donors’ interests and passions to a project that will bring them joy, you are in control of the communication stream to the donor and can turn the frequency and “volume” up or down on what the donor receives – you are in control of most of the relationship between your donor and the organization.  Use this power wisely to lift the donor up and honor her.
  4. Value and preserve yourself and, from that place of power, focus on others.  Learning to love yourself is no easy task.  I have spent a lifetime doing it.  And because I am human, I will always revert back to my old ways of selfishness and power grabbing if I don’t watch it.  So I am constantly on alert.  But I have discovered that there is a direct link between valuing and preserving myself and my ability to use my power to honor and lift up others.  When my love of self level is low, I tend to get more power hungry and self oriented.  When it is high, I am able to focus more generously on others.  So I have learned to stay in touch with that dial and take steps to correct my heart and mind when needed.  I suggest you do the same.

In the introduction to this series on money, position and power I asked you to make a list of what truly brings you happiness and fulfillment.

Hopefully, the main focus of your list is about others – serving them, lifting them up, building them, walking with them, encouraging them, helping them, etc.  Hopefully, there isn’t an entry on your list that says something like “if only I had more money I would be happy” or “if only I had that position or more authority and power I would be happy”.  If you have written something like that, I would ask you to re-read this series and ponder the question:  Does the pursuit of money, position and power fundamentally bring happiness and fulfillment?

I don’t think so.

And that is the dilemma we all face in this society of ours that is so oriented to the acquisition of money, position and power.  How do you operate and properly move ahead in such an environment?

Through service to others – outrageous service to others.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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3 Responses to How To Use Your Power Correctly

  1. Olivia says:

    Richard, I appreciate both you and Jeff’s honesty and insight.

  2. Kathy Buenger says:

    This is critical insight. “Me energy” people can come across in an interview as enthusiastic go-getter “cowboys”, not afraid to ask and cold call. Short-term, they can be very attractive individuals, in many ways. Long-term, they can become problems: rogues, he said/she said, promise-them-the-moon types. Individuals like this–in the game for themselves only– can undermine the integrity of the team and compromise the institution in a heartbeat.

  3. Richard Perry says:

    Excellent insights, Kathy! In fact, it is that attractiveness that gets them into a lot of places. And then the trouble starts. Thanks. Good input.

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