oldpeople 2014-Oct03


It was in April 2013 that the Boston bombing occurred. In the days that followed that tragedy, the staff of a sensitive and caring non-profit called all of their donors in the area to make sure they were OK, and to tell them they were thinking about them. A donor who received one of those calls was “absolutely floored that they would call me.” Because of that call, his wife also became a donor.
Several months ago an earthquake struck the San Francisco area. A MGO of another non-profit in that city immediately called her caseload donors to make sure they were all OK. When asked why she made the calls, the MGO responded: “It was the right thing to do.”
These are just two examples of major gift staff recognizing that donors have a life outside of their giving relationship to the non-profit. More and more enlightened MGOs are coming to grips with the fact that the donors on their caseload spend a majority of their time thinking about their lives and not about the cause they support.
While this may seem like an obvious bit of reality, the fact is that most MGOs don’t think in terms of how much of their donor’s share of mind is really occupied by the cause the MGO represents, or what the donor cares about. As a result, the MGO:
Is not aware of what does occupy the donor’s mind.

I want to be clear, before I continue, that I am not advocating, either in this post or as a recommended operating style of a MGO, that a MGO should become a stalker of their donor and seek to find out everything there is to know about that donor. No. What I am saying is that it would be good for a MGO to get to know the donor in such a way that the donor freely offers information, at a macro level, about what they care about and what is important to them. This can be accomplished by asking questions, like: “What kind of work do you do?” “What do you enjoy doing in your time away from work?” “In addition to what you are doing through us, what are you passionate about in our world that you would like to impact or change?” And, of course, there are questions about the family, recent trips or vacations, what bothers them about society, etc.

Be careful, though, on the question-asking: there is a right and good way to ask questions, and there is an abusive way. The right way is to be sincerely interested in the donor and to come from that place of interest. The donor can tell the difference between this line of questions and the abusive approach where the MGO seems to be filling out a profile and is machine-gunning the questions one right after the other.

If you are coming from a place of sincere interest, you will naturally take your time about asking questions. You may get one question answered in a call or contact, and another one three weeks later, then two months later, etc. This management of the cadence of question-asking is careful and sensitive. A skilled MGO knows when the questions are too much or too fast and backs off. Be curious and inquisitive in a kind, caring and sensitive way.

Is not prepared to offer appropriate service and care.

You can’t give input or offer care if you don’t know the donor very well. Jeff and I have had situations where a MGO, knowing that the donor really cared about a cause other than her non-profit, recommended a charity different than hers for the donor to support. Is that crazy? No – it’s wonderful. Donors do care about things other than your cause. Help them by supporting them.

We’ve seen other MGOs we work with secure catalogs or buy books to give to the donor that provide information on their favorite hobby or a wished-for vacation destination or some just-released research on a serious medical condition the donor or her family is experiencing. This is true caring in action. This is proof that the relationship the MGO has with the donor is not about the money. This shows that the MGO is sincerely engaged with the donor in her life outside of what happens in the current giving relationship.

Not all donors will welcome this kind of engagement, but many will. But you will not know who is with you and who isn’t unless you proactively engage as I have suggested.

Does not have a plan to be welcomed to occupy a greater share of the donor’s mind.

I have chosen the words in the preceding sentence very carefully, so please stay with me on this. First, every MGO should have a plan to occupy a greater share of the donor’s mind. Here is what I mean by that, in a personal example.

One of the areas of societal need that interests me is how to reduce the abuse and misuse of women. I know that is a big category, which could have a lot of sub-categories. But for sake of this illustration, please leave it there – abused women. I don’t think about this topic constantly, but I tend to gravitate towards material (print and electronic) and media that talk about this problem, what is being done about it and what more can be done about it. The topic occupies a share of my mind – it is a preferred topic, one that I welcome information on. Since that is true, anyone offering to give me more information on this topic is welcome to me. Why? Because I am genuinely interested in it. Therefore, if I were in a relationship with a MGO who represented a non-profit dealing with this area, I would welcome hearing from the MGO on what is being done, what more can be done and how I could get involved.

This dynamic is what I mean in my sentence above when I use the words “a plan to be welcomed.” It logically follows that you can’t be welcomed to offer information to a donor on a topic that the donor is not interested in. It logically follows that if the donor is interested in a topic, like the cause he is supporting through your organization, then receiving the latest information about your cause – what is working, what isn’t, challenges, stories, etc. – receiving this kind of information would be welcome.

Since all of this is true, then there is a process to activate this dynamic that goes like this: find out the donors’ specific interests (ask questions) and then service that interest by providing information. And when you provide that information, ask more questions about whether the donor would like more information, or less and “is there anything else in this area I could get for you?” This is how the donor welcomes you to “occupy a greater share” of the donor’s mind. Are you doing this in a thoughtful and caring way? If not, there’s a lot of work ahead – very useful work. And maybe some of that work will have nothing to do with the organization you represent. Wouldn’t that be something?

So far, in this series on the elements of outrageous donor service I have said two basic things. First, that great donor service starts with you, the MGO. Secondly, that great donor service recognizes that donors have a life outside of their giving-and-involvement relationship with your organization – and that this fact requires that the MGO take concrete steps to know the donor better and service her interests and passions.
Remember, this thing we call major gifts is about relationship – real relationship. And we all know how much work that is.
Series details:

  1. It Starts with You
  2. Donors Have Another Life
  3. Donors Care About Specific Things.
  4. Donors Need to be Thanked
  5. Donors Need to Make an Impact
  6. Donors Need to Give Input and Criticism