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 MGO’s sitting around the table were a mixture of seasoned professionals and employees newer to major gifts. Part of our session had taken place the day before when we were dealing with the reasons MGO’s 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 over night.”
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 been afraid to do that. Even when I know the person loves what we do and I know he has the capacity to give a lot, I find myself afraid to face the possibility that he 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 who doesn’t want to be hurt, who doesn’t want to 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 them.
What was so helpful about Robert’s confession of his fear was that he brought to light a subject that is rarely talked about in major gifts: The subject of inner voices that direct us at a deeper level. Often they direct us towards light and good. Many times they take us to dark places.
There is likely someone reading this who is impatiently saying, “Aw, 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, 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 who is constantly talking to us about his or her fears. And that voice 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.
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 time, every day and night, worrying about what could go wrong. In fact more time is spent on managing what might happen vs. what could happen. In major gifts, this person doesn’t try anything new, but instead mostly maintains the caseload and reacts to donors vs. take initiative.
- The angry little person. This person is deeply angry about 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, tried everything and there is nothing you can tell him or her about how to improve 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., etc. And these are the reason they don’t do what they know 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 companionship and spends most of his or her time with donors, not doing the work, but fulfilling a need for relationship. 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 if fear grips you.
This is why it is important for all of us to be kind and compassionate to the little people inside of us. 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.