There is an interesting dynamic that occurs when someone criticizes what I do or say. Part of me immediately puts up a defensive wall. Another part of me truly wants to hear it. I think you might be able to relate.
A wise person once said: “There is wisdom in counsel.” What that phrase means to Jeff and me is that everyone everywhere has something to add to what we are doing and saying, both professionally and personally. Since we believe that, we are constantly watching how we react to criticism and negative input.
When you stop to think about it, unless you welcome the input of others (good and bad), there is no way you can truly know that what you are doing and saying is having the effect or result you want.
Every donor on your caseload needs to give input to you and your organization – the good things they think and feel about their relationship with you, as well as the complaints, concerns and critique they have. The question is, are you and your organization prepared to receive that input?
Here are the types of reactions to major donor input we’ve heard in the last two months:
- “Look, we don’t have time to listen to everything every donor says. If we did that we couldn’t run the organization.”
- “You have got to be kidding. They (the donors) expect us to stop what we’re doing and give them more information on the program’s progress. Who is going to do that?”
- “I am afraid to talk to [donor name] about what is going on in the program they support, because it is not going very well and I know they will be disappointed.”
- “It’s really none of his (donor’s) business what the financial details are for that program. That is an internal discussion.”
- “[Donor name] wants to be involved in the design of that program. He did tell me that he feels we are going in the wrong direction. He does have the technical skill to contribute. After all, it IS his area of expertise. But I can’t see how to plug him in without causing a bunch of trouble with the program people. I think I will tell him we appreciate his input and have passed it on, and leave it at that.”
- “Donors are the backbone of our organization and very important partners. We really need to listen to what they have to say about how we run the organization. What would be wrong with that?”
Except for the last one, all the other comments are defensive and essentially reject any input the donor could give. This means that there is a great deal of wisdom that will not be shared with the organizations. Pretty sad.
It is true that donors sometimes give frivolous and non-additive complaints and input. It happens in every organization and in every relationship. But that is not a good reason to ignore the input of your good major donors. Major donors who cannot talk back to you are donors that eventually will go away. Count on it.
While many donors of past generations simply trusted organizations to do their job without input from them, the up-and-coming new generation of donors will not let their voice be silenced. So the wise leader and MGO will take this fact to heart and solicit input, welcome criticism and answer the need every donor has: to have their opinion heard and honored.
Here are some simple steps you can take today to re-orient your thinking toward welcoming donor input:
- First, work on your own attitude about this, making sure that you are in a good emotional and psychological place to hear anything your caseload donor wants to say. Jeff and I, and our associates, have adopted the philosophy captured in the phrase “there is wisdom in counsel,” and we’ve trained ourselves to listen to anything anyone says. Once you agree that no one person can know everything about how to do and say things, you can then begin to look for input and welcome it, even if on occasion it stings a little.
- Talk about it in your organization so that others start to think this way as well. It may seem like an uphill battle but, believe me, after a while many of your colleagues will start to see the benefit of listening to donor input.
- Encourage your caseload donors to talk about everything. The way to do this is to tell each one that you value their opinion and input. Then you ask them how they feel and think about your relationship, their relationship to the organization, their opinion on what works and what doesn’t, etc. You will find that, for the most part, your interaction at this new level will be a wonderful experience.
- Do something about what they tell you. Share it. Make it happen. And if you can’t change or implement what the donor has said, then tell them you can’t and give a reason. You will be surprised at how easy it is, even on subjects where the donor disagrees with your (or the organization’s) conclusion to their input.
Donors value being heard and being part of the process, just as much as they appreciate seeing their input result in actual change. So take steps this week to let the voice of each of your caseload donors be heard.