Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? Is perfection something you often find yourself striving for?

The pursuit of perfection has a significant impact on many of us. It’s created a culture of standards that are often unattainable. And when we’re living in this space, there’s no room for error, and the stakes are always high.

This is something we often see with fundraisers and leaders we work with in the non-profit sector. When you (or your organization) demand perfection in everything, the donor and the mission often get lost in it all.

So, how does this crop up in non-profits? Here are some things we’ve seen with the people we work with:

  • “I can’t send it until it’s perfect.” Creating the right touch points and proposals for your donors can be paralyzing when we feel like the stakes are so high that everything must be perfect. This leads us to delays in sending materials out because we want it to be designed perfectly by marketing and printed on nice, glossy paper. Interestingly though, we find that most donors actually prefer the imperfect, in-the-moment kind of touch points that connect them to the need and speak to their passions. There’s a time and place for professional looking materials, but don’t let this hold you back from actively communicating with your donors.
  • “I need to be prepared for any possible scenario!” We’re big believers in preparation, but it can be crippling. There’s simply no way to be prepared for every possible response, objection, or question that may come your way from a donor. Preparing and practicing is key, but don’t let it hold you back from meeting with the donor and having a meaningful conversation. And if you don’t know the answer, own that! Your donor will respect you more for admitting that you need to follow-up with the answer than if you pretend to know it.

These feelings are very common and often fueled by the pressure we put on ourselves or feel from leadership. It can easily feel like there’s a lot at stake with each donor you’re interacting with.

But perfectionism, at its core, is ultimately about control and ego. Every one of us struggles with this. The reality is that all our efforts to be perfect in every communication with our donors this actually makes it all about us, not about the donor.

Consider how some of the above examples might be perceived by a donor:

  • If you’re too focused on making sure the impact report is a high-quality marketing piece… your donor may feel like the report is not only wasting money, but is disconnected from the gift, and the results will feel stale and outdated if you spend so much time creating the report.
  • If you’re overly prepared with a response to any possible scenario… your donor may feel like the conversation is not as genuine, or like you aren’t really listening to them.

So, what can you do to overcome perfectionism and let go of some of the weight of expectation that you’ve been carrying around?

  • Focus on Meaningful, Not Perfect Think back to something that has been especially meaningful to you. Maybe it’s a hand-drawn card from one of your children, or a grainy “I love you” message from a loved one while you were separated. Most likely, it wasn’t something pristine and polished. Keep this in mind as you consider what to share with your donors.
  • Remember, You’re Human (And Your Donors Are Too) Sometimes we can forget that our donors are real people. They have real lives, with real demands, just like us. So, when you talk to your donors, don’t speak to them like you’re giving a formal presentation. Speak to them like a person. And also remember that you’re only human, too. You’ll make mistakes, and you won’t have all the answers, but you can still create a genuine and honest relationship with your donors, which is really the goal here.
  • Assess Where Expectations Are Out of Alignment Check in with your supervisor on expectations that need to reset. Is there a culture at your organization where an impact report can’t go out until you’ve jumped through a million hoops and spun around backwards? If so, look for how you can adjust the culture and expectations to better work for you and your donors.
  • Recognize the Point of Diminishing Returns With any project or task, there’s a point at which you just need to get it done. Start to tune in and recognize when you keep digging into something for minor improvements, when it would better serve your donors to just get it out there. If you reach that point, ask for some trusted feedback from someone you know will be honest and supportive.
  • Learn Your Triggers Like with anything, knowing what spurs a certain reaction in yourself can give you a lot of power in managing it. Spend some time considering what triggers your perfectionism. This is another great place to seek trusted insight. As you identify your triggers, create a plan of what you’ll do instead of letting perfectionism take over. For example, if you know that deadlines piling up is a major trigger for you, create a plan for how to approach multiple competing deadlines so that you can take off some of that stress.

In all of this, remember that the most important thing you can do is connect your donor with the areas of your organization that are most meaningful to them. (Tweet it!) We encourage you to continue your self-work and to let go of the pressure you are putting on yourself. YOU are such a valuable part of your organization, and we can’t wait to hear how you’ll continue to make an impact on the world’s greatest needs.