Honesty and Transparency Build Trust with Donors

Just tell the truth.

Part three of the series: Six Traits of Healthy Donor Relationships

“Yes, you are right. Our overhead is 26%!”

“I’m calling to let you know that the project you funded is being shut down. We thought we had a strategy that would work, but it turned out it didn’t. Now there is good news. Our learnings from this effort are being used in this other program….”

“I checked with finance, and it turns out that your check is still in their hands unprocessed. I know we said your gift was urgent, but to be honest, the CFO just decided that it would be best not to incur the extra labor during this busy season so the receipting process is way behind. This is frustrating to me, too, because we really do need the money to do the program.”

“As I promised you, I did check with our program people on your desire to fund the project that you feel so strongly about. And unfortunately, we just can’t do it. I know you told me that if we couldn’t do it you would use your $100,000 with someone else. I hope you reconsider, but I have done the best I can.”

I could go on and on with examples of real-life conversations where a non-profit staff member has simply told it as it is, rather than dressing up a touchy subject. It is the best way to go.

Jeff and I have seen scores of situations where dishonesty and story-packaging have completely ruined the relationship. We have also seen many situations where the MGO told the truth and risked frustration from the donor. In most of those situations, there is a positive conclusion. Why? Because we all want to know the truth and deal with reality. And we all are very tired of the manipulation of facts.

Jon Gordon, a leading author and speaker, talks about the “11 Ways to Build Trust.” In his book Soup he talks about how trust is one of the essential ingredients to build a great relationship, a winning team and a culture of greatness. Without trust you can’t have engaged relationships, and without engaged relationships you won’t be successful in any relationship.

He goes on to say the following:

“Many ideas I share are common sense. However, I’ve found that so often amidst the chaos of life and work we forget the simple and powerful truths that matter most. So here are 11 thoughts about trust:

  1. Say what you are going to do and then do what you say!
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Frequent, honest communication builds trust. Poor communication is one of the key reasons marriages and work relationships fall apart.
  3. Trust is built one day, one interaction at a time, and yet it can be lost in a moment because of one poor decision. Make the right decision.
  4. Value long-term relationships more than short-term success.
  5. Sell without selling out. Focus more on your core principles and customer loyalty than short-term commissions and profits.
  6. Trust generates commitment; commitment fosters teamwork; and teamwork delivers results. When people trust their team members they not only work harder, but they work harder for the good of the team.
  7. Be honest! My mother always told me to tell the truth. She would say, “If you lie to me then we can’t be a strong family. So don’t ever lie to me even if the news isn’t good.”
  8. Become a coach. Coach your customers. Coach your team at work. Guide people, help them be better and you will earn their trust.
  9. Show people you care about them. When people know you care about their interests as much as your own they will trust you. If they know you are out for yourself, their internal alarm sounds and they will say to themselves “watch out for that person.”
  10. Always do the right thing. We trust those who live, walk and work with integrity.
  11. When you don’t do the right thing, admit it. Be transparent, authentic and willing to share your mistakes and faults. When you are vulnerable and have nothing to hide you radiate trust.”

This is a very good list and one that Jeff and I suggest you look at frequently to make sure you keep on track. Major gift work is hard work. And many relationships with donors and co-workers can become difficult and strained. It is easy to get off course and not tell the whole story.

Jeff and I have made a commitment to each other, just as I have in my marriage and in all of my relationships, to tell the truth, be open and be transparent. This commitment comes at a price because it is not always easy. But in the end it is so much better for me and everyone else involved.

Try this approach with all the donors on your caseload and all the people you work with. You will be amazed at all the great things that happen.

Richard

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