It’s a difficult thing to manage. You really want to care about your donor and help them fulfill their passions and interests, but you also want the money. You have goals to meet, and the pressure is increasing. So, without really intending to, you run the risk of creating and maintaining a fake relationship.

A fake relationship is that place where you really don’t care as much as you should about your donor and your actions and behaviors are more about getting your hands on the donor’s money than they are about helping the donor do good on the planet.

You know what I’m talking about. You have created a contact plan – what we would call a donor engagement plan (DEP) – that outlines exactly what you should do and when in order to get the gift.

It’s a good plan. And it’s the right thing to do. After all, you do need to know where you are going with each qualified donor on your caseload. But here is where you must watch that your heart is engaged along with your head.

When you have a fake relationship, your head is managing the process – and it’s just your head. You are going through the motions and directives of your plan. But your heart is not engaged. That caring and thoughtful part of you is not present because you haven’t asked for it to be engaged, nor have you planned for it. So, your level of engagement is nothing more than tactical, impulsive, and sometimes superficial actions. Nothing more.

I liken this whole dynamic to how I handle celebrations in my life. Things like birthdays, anniversaries, and other life milestones worth celebrating. If I didn’t write down, as a recurring item on my calendar, the birthdays of a few friends, I would not remember to go through the exercise of (a) remembering the person on their special day, and (b) saying something meaningful. Instead, I would just forget.

So, I am prompted by my calendar to remember an important event in the person’s life. And that prompting helps me stop and engage my heart as well so that I spend the time to think about why this person is important to me. This is how a good plan should work. It reminds you, not only about WHAT to do, but also to engage your heart while you are doing it.

Here’s the thing. A donor can tell the difference between fake and ulterior-motivated behavior and real behavior. You can tell as well. You know when that fake celebration or fake tactic comes along. It just feels very light, obligatory, and, well, disingenuous. It doesn’t touch or fill your heart.

So, if the “touch point” you’re using with your donor has that “get the money” smell to it, the odor will be off-putting. Which is why you must watch it and manage that line between working your plan and engaging your heart.

I know. It takes time to engage the heart. Time you think you don’t have. And you’re trying to be efficient in how you manage relationships with your donors. So, what can you do to manage this dynamic and have real, authentic relationships with your donors? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Accept the fact that this relational dynamic – the fake / real thing – happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or manipulative person just because it is present in your relationships. It simply is part of being human.
  2. Establish a system to remember what is important to your donor. This could be a plan with deadlines that you schedule on your calendar or a reminder on your computer. It’s important to remember the important things in your donor’s life. And you cannot rely on yourself to remember because you won’t. Use a calendaring or reminder system to do it.
  3. When you are reminded to take an action, engage your heart. When the system you have set up reminds you about something you need to DO with your donor – stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following questions about the item you need to act on:
  • Why is this important to your donor?
  • What does your donor need from you as it relates to this item?
  • How can you show you really care about this?
  • What steps can you take to disassociate your actions here from wanting to secure a gift from this donor?
  1. Keep remembering that your donor’s life journey and how you contribute to it are more important to the relationship than the money you can get from them.

Taking these steps, and many more like them, will help you be real with your qualified caseload donors as you engage your heart and insert true caring into your relationships with each of them. Remember, it is important to do this because it is the right thing to do.