Cartoon bubbles with words opposing and voices Disinterested SpouseThe husband loves the organization; the wife doesn’t. But they share decision-making on donations. How should you handle a disinterested spouse or partner?
In another situation, the wife loves the organization but the husband was offended by a staff member at a recent event, and he now talks down the organization and its staff. How should you handle this?
An MGO wrote us recently about this dilemma that many MGOs face, where one partner or spouse does not share the same passion, love and enthusiasm for the cause as the other one.
This is not unlike a lot of other areas in life where two people in a long-term relationship have some common interests, but they have an even greater list of interests not held in common.
The general operating rule we suggest in dealing with a disinterested spouse or partner is to serve the person whose interests and passions match those of your organization. You cannot be responsible for the other person in the relationship. It is not your job to manage the internal communications (or lack of communications) of the couple. To put it bluntly, that is their problem. And likely, you cannot fix it. Nor should you try.
We know of one couple where the husband decides everything. I mean everything. He drives the car – she never drives. He manages the budget and dispenses the money. He controls all communication: email, phone, mail, etc. The wife is a mere speck in this relationship. Do you really think you can influence that system and get the husband to truly value his good wife and serve her charitable interests? Probably not. So why try?
Having said all of that, there are a couple of questions you could ask in a situation like this, where you perceive an unequal interest, as long as it feels right to ask them.

  1. You are talking to the interested party, but you perceive that the other party is not interested. Your question might sound something like this: “NAME, it is so nice that you are supportive of our organization and especially the project that helps [beneficiary of project name]. Is [name of other party] interested in it as well?” Then the donor says they aren’t. And you say: “Oh, OK. Is it OK if just the two of us talk about it, or is there some way to include him/her?” And you get direction on what to do. Then you proceed in that direction. In other words, seek counsel on how to handle the situation from the interested party.
  2. You are talking to the interested party, and you discover that someone (you or others) has caused a bruise or break in relationship with the other party. The minute you discover that, you should apologize and seek counsel on what to do about it. Then take steps to repair the relationship. This often works, but sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, you just have to walk away and keep your relationship going with the person who is interested and engaged.

It is always good, in our opinion, to be appropriately curious about something that is not working relationally. Then, having found out what it is, you can seek advice and input from the donor who is friendly and interested, and take action on that advice and counsel.
The one thing you cannot do is be responsible for the party who does not or will not engage. Do not get pulled into that vortex. It has nothing to do with you. Just because a couple are connected to each other does not mean they both need to be connected to you. And if one party holds the other one hostage on the money, there is nothing you can do about it. Just be kind and compassionate to the donor who loves your organization. Time, and your good attitude – plus giving that donor space – will come back to you in positive ways.