Just tell the truth.
It was depressing to watch this series of events unfold.
The donors, a very wealthy couple, had been giving to the organization for over ten years. They loved the organization. They had introduced the CEO of the organization to many of their wealthy friends. And things were going very well for everyone.
Until the cover-up began.
It wasn’t meant to be a cover-up; no one meant to hide things from the donor. There was no malicious intent – it just happened.
It started several years earlier, when the donor was presented with a opportunity to fund a program they were passionate about. The CEO explained all the details and objectives of the program, how it would work, the sequencing of activity, etc. The couple was excited, and they made a multi-million dollar commitment over a period of three years.
Everyone was happy.
Until the program implementation ran into some problems and needed to be changed.
Let me digress a bit here.
You know as well as I that anytime you plan to do something – even a trip across the state – you create a plan and then as things unfold, circumstances arise and you have to change that plan. That’s life. Most any plan I have been involved with has had to change. When I’m involved in any plan, I always tell others that the plan is likely 60% right – that the other 40% will need to change as we go along. I do that because I know from experience that this is how it is.
So do most people. And all anyone requires is a heads-up to reset expectations.
This is where it went wrong in the story about the wealthy couple and their generous support of a program with their favorite charity. When the CEO heard that things were not going well, and program design changes were needed, he immediately got into a defensive position with the donor and concluded that they would be angry with the change in direction. So he decided not to tell them.
Oh boy! This is gonna be a problem.
And it was. To make a long story short, the CEO waited so long to tell the donor about the changes that the donor felt deceived and mistreated. The relationship was irreparably broken, the giving stopped, and the whole thing was a mess.
All because the CEO lacked the courage to tell the donor what was going on in a timely manner – he did not tell the donor the truth. Pretty sad.
Jeff and I see some version of this story very frequently. It comes in many forms: sometimes it can be outright lying and deception, and other times the non-profit simply does not tell the donor how their gift made a difference – which can be just as tragic and hurtful.
The lying is one thing – it is a character flaw on the part of those that are doing it. But not regularly telling the donor how their gift is being used is inexcusable. This is one the major reasons that more and more donors are getting discouraged and disenchanted with philanthropy in general. Can they trust that they will really know if their giving made any difference? Can they know that their gift was used to do any good? Or was it just gobbled up to fund the desires and dreams of the insiders?
Telling the truth is a big deal with donors. Huge. And if you are wondering why your donor is a little tentative in his or her relationship with you, it is likely because they are dealing with trust issues with you and your organization.
So make sure this year that you are telling each of your donors the truth, in large ways and small. If something changes about the program a donor is funding, be very quick to tell them about those changes. It will be OK, believe me. And always – regularly – tell the donor how her money is being used and that her giving is making a difference
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