I experienced a situation in the last few months in which a person I trusted implicitly threw me under the bus. I was surprised at first, and then hurt – surprised that a relationship that had been in place for over a decade meant so little to this person that it would be tossed aside to gain political advantage, and hurt that the actual gain in political advantage was hardly worth the damage done.
Then, while I was licking my wounds on that event and solely focused on “poor me,” I remembered the times that I had done this very thing to other people in my life – i.e., traded a personal advantage for relationship. As I pondered those events I felt ashamed. And then I was able to convert my recent experience into a positive reminder that goes something like this: “Richard, when you are tempted to use your above-average influencing skills to gain personal advantage and, in the process, hurt someone else, remember what it feels like and don’t do it!”
I was thankful I had been thrown under the bus. It helped me remember how I should behave.
It is so interesting how delicate this thing called trust really is in relationships. And in the relationships you have with the donors on your caseload, this trust thing is very critical, not only if you are to be a person of integrity in those relationships, but also if you are to be successful in nurturing and managing those relationships to a mutually beneficial end.
Stephen Covey’s book on trust, the basis for this series on trust in donor relationships, sets forth thirteen behaviors of relational trust that I want to explore here. These are things you must do to build trust with your donors. Here we go:
- Talk Straight – Stephen advises to “communicate clearly so that you cannot be misunderstood. Declare your intent. Be honest and call things what they are. Don’t distort facts. Avoid counterfeit behaviors such as withholding information, flattery and spin.” Whew, this one hit me like a ton of bricks. I really have to watch how I spin things. You just cannot do this with donors. They know what is going on, believe me.
- Demonstrate Respect – This is not only about showing real respect that comes from your heart, it is also about avoiding “fake respect or concern… showing respect and concern for only those who can do something for you.”
- Create Transparency – “Be real and genuine and tell the truth in a way people can verify.”
- Right Wrongs – This may be a hard one, but it is important and I have seen it done in incredible ways in a non-profit. In fact, we have one client for whom the seven-figure gift of a donor was not used as represented to the donor. The MGO, with management support, made it right and it was a big deal.
- Show Loyalty – This is about treating the donor as a partner vs. just a source of cash and being mutual and loyal in your relationship to the donor. This may be hard to do in some organizations, especially those that view the donor as a source of cash. “Why should we worry,” they would say, “about the donor and what they need or want? Just get the money!”
- Deliver Results – A very real part of developing trust is delivering what you promised. And building trust with your manager is evidenced by delivering results that you promised to him or her. There is nothing that breaks up trust more than saying you will do something and then not doing it.
- Get Better – As donors and others in your relational sphere see you personally getting better at what you do, and desiring to get better, it will build trust between you.
- Confront Reality – Most of us, at some level, avoid conflict. Something bad pops up and we hide to some degree or another. This hiding causes trust to break down. On the other hand, when you are faced with a difficult situation and just confront it and move to repair the situation, it builds trust. Several months ago an MGO discovered a $100,000 check from a donor had gone astray. It was lost. Don’t ask me how that happened – I still can’t believe it, but it was lost. The MGO confronted reality right away, talked to the donor and things were worked out.
- Clarify Expectations – I’ve seen this one go south a number of times between a donor and an MGO or the organization. The donor thinks one thing, the MGO another. I suggest you go over any agreements and arrangements several times with the donor verbally, and then also put it in writing just to make sure.
- Practice Accountability – There is nothing quite like admitting it was your fault (if it was) when something goes wrong. I was in a situation last week where I had to admit to the person that I was the one who screwed things up – it was no one’s fault but my own. A donor appreciates that kind of openness and ownership.
- Listen First – In all of your conversations with donors, have an intention to listen first, then chase your agenda. I have to work at this. Being the planner that I am, I always have an objective for every phone call, e-mail or meeting. Since I am that way, I must, as an act of my will, start a dialogue with listening. It is difficult sometimes, but it must be done.
- Keep Commitments – Do as you said you would do. Period.
- Extend Trust – If you give trust, you will get it. Conversely, if you don’t trust, it will not come back to you. This is a simple concept and truth that is very difficult to act on, I know.
There you go – a good list of ideas on building trust in your donor relationships. I think you can already see how valuable this is to managing the donors on your caseload. And you can also see how building trust can positively affect the economic journey you are on with every donor. While the money is an important metric to measure your success in your job, don’t forget that building trust – real trust – is the path to that money.
This is the third in a six-part series. To read the series from the beginning, click here.