It’s a delicate thing.

If you’ve done your job right as a frontline fundraiser, as part of discovering more about how best to serve your donor’s interests and passions, you’ve likely moved into a place intimacy with that donor that feels very personal.

And while that is a good place to be, both from your point of view and your donor’s point of view, it can also be a dangerous place to be.

Jeff and I have seen some interesting twists and turns in this area. Here are just a few of them:

  • The frontline fundraiser starts sharing his or her personal information and seeking advice on their life journey.
  • The donor seeks exceptions from the frontline fundraiser or organization on what they fund with their giving. For example, they may ask to have special projects set up outside the scope of the organization’s priorities. We know of one donor who said he would give X million dollars to the existing program, if the organization would set up a new program in another area.
  • The donor wants special favors. We heard of one situation where the donor wanted an event organized for friends and acquaintances. It was all packaged as a “great way to benefit the organization,” but in reality, it was simply an event that served the donor’s social objectives.
  • The frontline fundraiser begins to share inside organization information that should be kept private. This is a tricky one. We had a situation where confidential information was shared with a donor who then used it to bully the CEO and the board.

And there are many more situations like this that happen when a frontline fundraiser goes too far in creating intimacy and familiarity with a donor.

Here’s how you should manage this.

  1. First, keep it clear in your head that you are an advisor to your donor. You are not their friend. You are giving advice on how to fulfill the donor’s passions and interests through their giving.
  2. Share some personal details (family, vacations, hobbies, etc.) but not anything more sensitive. E.g., relationship troubles with your family, how you’re stretched financially, etc. Keep a very strict boundary on sharing personal information.
  3. Do not, ever, share inside organization information that hasn’t been approved to share with key donors. If a donor wants to comment or engage on one of those points or asks you what you think, a good answer is, “Hmmm… I will have to think about that.” Or “Oh, that subject is totally out of my area of responsibility. You would need to talk to X about that.” Or even more directly: “I am really not comfortable talking about that and have been asked to keep it confidential.”
  4. On any special favors, like gift designations, organizing events, etc., you might say: “You know, DONOR NAME, I don’t have the authority to do that, so I’m sorry I can’t help in that way.” Of course, if the idea is a good one, but it is a bit unusual, then promise to check if you can do it and then get back to the donor.

It is so important to constantly keep in mind that your donor is not your friend. And it’s important to control your impulse to trade friendship for donor giving. That is manipulation and eventually it will catch up with you. Keep those good boundaries up and it will serve you well.