settingboundaries 2015-Jan28
I think if there is one thing that you’ve heard us say more than anything in the Passionate Giving Blog it’s that you need to establish solid relationships with your donors. There is no question that, as an MGO, that is your first and foremost job.
If you can create a solid relationship with a donor, the money will follow. This has been proven over and over again. Going after the money is not the way to do it.
But what does it mean to establish a solid relationship with a donor? Where do you draw the line between MGO-and-donor and MGO-and-friend?
Admittedly, this is tough to know where to draw the line. Obviously, you want your donors to trust you, to be able to rely on you for information and great donor service, but the fact is that THERE IS A LINE. And if you cross it, you may jeopardize your organization and your career.
You see, you are a representative of your organization. So even though you are creating a relationship with a donor that demands trust, that relationship will always be based on the organization’s mission and the donor. Not you, the MGO personally, with the donor.
Richard and I have heard horror story after horror story where the MGO becomes so close to the donor that if the MGO leaves the organization, the donor follows the MGO. Folks, that is way over the line. Any MGO or any organization that hires an MGO hoping that will happen is unethical.
Here are two lines you cannot cross:

  1. If a donor asks you to do something or invites you to something that has no tie to your organization but is strictly personal, it’s over the line. I realize that some of your relationships with donors are close. But they should only get close in the context of bringing together your organization’s mission with you donor’s desire to change the world. If that donor starts to invite you to her personal events or invites you to spend the week at her beach house, that is over the line. Now, if the donor makes her beach house available to the staff or board for a retreat, that is different. But to use it for personal reasons is unethical.
  2. A donor requests that you see him frequently for lunch or dinner. This happens a lot, especially when older donors have lost many of their friends and family. They start calling their favorite MGO to have lunch every week. The MGO feels compelled, because they know the donor gives them a ton of money. But this is not a healthy relationship. As the MGO, you cannot get sucked into that type of relationship with a donor. Will you lose his money if you don’t do the lunch? Perhaps, but you maintain your integrity and the integrity of the organization.

Again, the bottom line is that your relationship with a donor is predicated on building a relationship on the mission of your organization. Anything other than that is suspect. Yes, I understand that some donors give because they are a friend of the board or President and have little interest for the mission. But those are not really “major donors” in our book. Those are friends doing reciprocal giving.
Your job as an MGO is to build relationships with donors in order to understand their passions and match that up with your organization’s projects and programs that are making the world a better place. That’s it.
Now most donors get this. Some don’t. As a professional fundraiser, you need to be able to understand this dynamic and ethic of fundraising.
Richard and I would love your input on this subject. We know there are a lot of stories out there that all of us could learn from. Please share them if you would. Remember, you are all about building solid relationships in the context of your organization’s mission. This is what is important. That is what is ethical.
PS – Relationships with donors is what our new book is all about: It’s Not JUST About the Money. Click here to read about it and get your own copy!