One of my ongoing fears that sticks to me in a most disturbing way is the fear of rejection. Both Jeff and my wife will tell you that this one area is the thing that haunts me in every relationship I have, whether personal or professional. I even make up stories in my head about strangers with whom I interact during the normal course of the day – stories about what they are thinking and how they are reacting to me.
It is a real burden that I am learning to manage and deal with.
So when a client manager who works with us here at Veritus Group wrote and told me about a “rejection situation” she had encountered in donor management, I thought I would pass it along as a helpful reminder about a real dynamic in major gifts that you, as an MGO, deal with every day. It is a situation that could bury you emotionally and psychologically, but one that, if properly understood, can be controlled and managed.
But before I share the situation with you, first I need to add some context.
Our approach to major gift caseload management is that an MGO should qualify every donor who goes on the caseload. By qualify we mean that if the donor meets the major gift metric (that number that qualifies them to be considered for inclusion on an MGO caseload), then the MGO must contact that donor to determine if the donor wants a more personal relationship. It is only after the donor has agreed, either directly or indirectly, to have a more personal relationship, that the MGO then adds the donor to his or her caseload.
I want to be clear here that this qualification process is critical to proper caseload management. (Talk to us if you want more information on this.) You should not be adding donors to a caseload just because they have a certain level of cumulative giving.
Here is the critical part on this topic. In our experience, only 1 in 3 donors who meet the major gift metric to be added to a caseload actually want to have a more personal relationship. We have seen some situations where this ratio is as high as 1 to 5. So, best case, two out of every three donors who you try to contact and qualify will say “no”.
That’s the context.
So, our client manager writes and tells me about two MGOs who are currently qualifying donors for a caseload. She has reminded these MGOs about the “rejection factor” in the qualifying process:
- That two out of every three donors contacted will say no. Maybe more.
- That some of those no’s may be a little negative.
- That they are susceptible to getting discouraged and disappointed.
- That all of this is not personal to the MGO.
And this reminder was helpful to the MGOs that the client manager was working with, because it spared them from potentially disabling rejection. It even gave them a little push of new life to keep going and continue trying in the face of rejection.
This major gift work, much like any kind of work where you deal with people in a personal way, is a very delicate thing. If you don’t watch it, you can, like me, make up stories that do not exist about what is going on with a donor. Or, if there is a real story – for example, a donor who does not want to relate or does not want to do what you would like him to do – then you need to remember that:
- The donor does have the right to say no, to not engage or to do what you are asking him to do. It is interesting how easy it is to forget this point. Often, I get it into my head that there is a certain way to do things or there is a certain action a person should take. And I expect her to say yes, or at least agree with me. Then when I present that “certain way” and the person either changes it or says no, I react negatively, as if I had a corner on the truth – as if what I had designed or determined was THE way. No, the donor has a right to say no. I was in a meeting last week with a trusted friend and colleague. We had spent weeks designing a way forward on a project that had been assigned to us. We had created a “certain way.” We got into the meeting and the other folks patiently listened to our presentation, asked questions and then changed things around. There weren’t any real “no’s” in the meeting. They just recommended a different path – something different than the certain way we had designed. They had the right to change it. We needed to adapt, which we did. But I had to think about it.
- It is not personal to you. This is one of the most difficult things to, first, believe, and then manage. You often hear, “Hey, this is not personal, but…”, and then the person says something or draws a conclusion that does feel awfully personal. When I feel this way I have a specific way I handle it. I have learned that if I keep my disquiet to myself, the rejection ghosts and demons will only get larger and more powerful in my head. So I talk to someone, most often Jeff and/or my wife. I just blurt out the situation, feeling no shame because I know they understand and care for me. And I immediately deflate all the energy on the topic. It doesn’t totally go away for me, but it becomes more manageable. And most importantly, it prevents me from doing or saying something really stupid. So, remember this when a donor says“no” – it truly is not personal to you.
In major gifts work, the fear of rejection can be the one reason an MGO fails. It is not the quality of the donor, the quality of the program or the quality of the particular offer or ask. It is the MGO who allows fear to creep in and become crippled by it that causes failure.
Take steps to become self-aware on this point. Then, find someone who understands and cares for you – someone you can talk to when these things come up. Believe me, it will make your inner life so much more peaceful. And a peaceful MGO is good for those donors on your caseload.