In my last post, we talked about being appropriately persistent in your relationship with your caseload donor, worrying more about the relevance of your content with that donor than the frequency of your communication. In other words, make sure you are providing your donor with information they care about.
But even if you do that right, you could fall into the trap of abusing the donor’s time by blathering on and on about the “relevant information”– essentially wasting your donor’s time with complexity and detail she just does not want to consume or care about.
Several weeks ago, we had a report from one donor who called the Director of Development to complain that the MGO was spending too much of the donor’s time and getting into too much detail about the programs of the organization. “It’s not that Mary [not her real name] is a bad person,” the donor said. “It’s just that it’s irritating to have her around because she gets into more detail than I am interested in. If she is doing that with all of her donors, it could be a problem for the organization.”
Mary had done all the right things in this relationship. She had uncovered the interests and passions of the donor and had successfully connected with the donor, building a relationship of trust. She had researched all the programs that this donor would be interested in, so she was ready to do the very thing Jeff and I are constantly talking about – helping this good donor fulfill her interests by giving to the organization.
But it was right at this point that she stopped listening like she should have, and she moved into presentation mode with the donor. It was almost as if she was excitedly saying: “Guess what, donor, I have everything you need! You are really going to love this stuff! It is SO exciting! Can’t wait to share it with you!” And off she went, ears shut down and mouth fully engaged.
She got with the donor and started excitedly dispensing all the information and the process behind all the information and every detail of the information, suffocating the donor and creating a situation that prompted the donor call to the Development Director.
This MGO is a good, solid professional. She has simply lost her way on communicating with her donor. She has forgotten that the donor needs to control the quality and quantity of the information, not the MGO. That is an easy mistake to make.
Here is how you can avoid this situation:

  1. Once you have uncovered the interests and passions of your donor, take the next step and find out what they want to know and how much they want to know. You could phrase the question this way: “George, I am so glad you are interested in the X program of our organization. What kind of information about that program would you find interesting that I could get for you?” Something like that. In other words, digging deeper to secure information about what part of the program is interesting to the donor. If the donor is interested in clean water development in the developing world, her interest may be more about how you find the water source than how you extract the water. In this case you can see that going on and on about the process and system of water extraction would be a waste of time, frustrating the donor.
  2. Watch for cues when you are sharing the information. Is the donor truly hooked into your words, or is she restless and distracted, wiggling her feet, tapping her fingers, fidgeting, etc. – all clues that should tell you it’s time to shorten it up and stop.
  3. Ask this question as you are sharing information: “NAME, is this information, that I am sharing now, interesting to you or would you rather I talk about something else?” This gives the donor permission to re-direct you. The follow-on question could be: “What else would you like to know?” You need to be curious about what the donor wants to know. This is about getting your ears back in the game and listening.
  4. Always be curious about what the donor wants. This is the operating principle. You cannot decide in advance what the donor wants – you just can’t do it! And you will be tempted to do it because (a) the program person has passed on his excitement and passion for one or more elements of the program, or (b) the authority figure in your organization has asked you to emphasize this or that, or (c) you personally are excited about one thing or another, etc. etc. Notice that in each of the scenarios I just mentioned, the donor is nowhere to be found. That is the problem. This is about the donor, which is why you have to be vigilant on this point.

I know this is pretty basic stuff. But it is here, in the basics, where Jeff and I see the greatest opportunity for success. This is the reason MGOs most often fail – they just do not do the basics right. So this week, set your mind to keeping all of your communications donor-centered, avoiding your natural tendency to talk about what you (or others in your organization) want to talk about. Keep it short, simple and to the point.