Things Major Donors Love/Hate: Respecting Space and Time vs. Being Bothered

respect 2016-Jun01

I had given a decent gift to the organization – not a large one, but enough to qualify for major gift status. And I was immediately assigned to a major gift officer. Because I was an involved supporter of this organization, I was in their offices in Washington, D.C. and the MGO came over to see me. Here is the conversation we had:

MGO: “Oh hi, Richard, it is so good to see you. I’m NAME, the person here at ORGANIZATION who will be working with you to answer any questions you might have. Thank you so much for all you’re doing! We really appreciate it. By the way, I will be in Seattle next month and was wondering if I could stop by and see you?”

Richard: “Good to meet you, NAME. And thanks for being my contact here at ORGANIZATION. As far as coming by to see me, I don’t think it would be useful to stop in and see me, as I am already on board. Spend your time, instead, with other donors in the Seattle area. I think that would be a better use of your time. Plus, I am more of an email guy – so anything you want to communicate to me would be better received if you email me. And then, if I want to engage, I will let you know.”

MGO: “OK, but maybe if I have time, I will just stop by to say hello.”

Richard: “Like I said, there is no need to do that. Good to meet you.”

Now, I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you? I told the MGO my communication preference. I told her I was on board. I told her how to get me more engaged. And I specifically told her what NOT to do. So what happened? Here is the play-by-play three weeks later:

Receptionist at my company: “Richard, there’s a [NAME of MGO] here who just stopped by and wants to see you.”

Richard: (Frustrated) “OK, I’ll be right out.” I go out to the reception area to greet the MGO, and we stand in the lobby.

Richard: “Hi, NAME. It was nice of you to stop by, but I thought I was pretty clear that wasn’t necessary. Do you remember the conversation we had back in D.C. just three weeks ago?”

MGO: “Yes, but I was just in the area and thought I would just stop in for a second to say hello. I hope that’s OK.”

Richard: “Well, actually it isn’t, NAME. I specifically told you my preferences, and you ignored them. I don’t want to be rude. But I am frustrated that you did not listen to me and just went ahead and came to my office and interrupted my day when I asked you not to do that. This does not help you or your cause, NAME, when you push yourself on donors like this. Please use your time to visit with donors who want to talk to you in person.”

I ended the conversation as best as I could, and I never again gave a penny to that organization.

Here’s the thing (Jeff and I have repeated this over and over again in our blogs): a respectful relationship with your donor starts with you knowing his interests and passions, then serving those interests in passions in the manner the donor directs.

  1. Serving the donor’s passions and interests.
  2. In the manner the donor directs.

There is never any excuse to do this any other way. And if you are truly serving the donor’s passions and interests – truly – then the donor will want to engage, will want to see you, and will welcome your presence. This is how it works.

It is so fascinating to me how many major gift gurus out in the marketplace can spend so much time teaching moves management and how to use just the right words to motivate the donor to act, and yet spend so little time helping good MGOs learn the basics of HOW the transaction works relationally – that it starts with the deep need of a donor to do good on the planet, and ends with the MGO showing the donor how that deep need can be fulfilled through a gift.

If you do all of that right, your donor will welcome you as a partner, rather than view you as a bother. And that is a valuable place to be.




  • Amanda says:

    I certainly wouldn’t stop by unannounced after someone told me not to visit, but I think there is value in persistence. I have had a few donors express resistance to a visit, and after a few phone calls, they accept and at the conclusion of the visit, they tell me how glad they were that they did it. I think in these instances, the thing I’ve tried to focus on is what else they have going on. “Oh my goodness! Your daughter is getting married? That’s so exciting!” Next call: “Last time we spoke, you mentioned your daughter was getting married! Did everything go well? I bet it was beautiful! Perhaps some day you can show me photos.” I work on building the relationship by phone over several visit attempts and eventually, I become more than a faceless name. I am someone with whom they have connected and want to spend time with.

    When people are clear that they only want email communication, I tell my faculty members, “Make sure you send this guy an email about what you’ve been doing and ask him what he thinks!” Ramp up email communication to let the donor know they have been heard, but that we’re not going to stop building a relationship with them.

  • Sally says:

    As I read the first part, I found myself relating to the MGO and suspect the organization (like my own) has such a strong metric for personal visits that it can supersede donors’ other more preferred means of communication. After all, emails and mailings often aren’t counted for metrics. In addition, supervisors often wonder why there are no visits with the “top donors.” I am not justifying the behavior and have never shown up to a visit with a donor without their prior permission, but I have found myself guilty of perhaps being overly persistent to stop by for a brief in person visit. Ultimately, it may be an issue of metrics (and pay/job security) winning out over good donor service. Thank you for this important reminder about why it is so important to really listen to our donors.

  • Sue says:

    Thanks for this article, Richard. Although it’s easy to understand how and why you’d be so frustrated by this interaction, as an MGO I totally get (or could guess) why the MGO in this scenario did it anyway. For me, (as an MGO), the gold standard is face to face relationships. I’m held accountable for how many face to face meetings I get per year, so when the numbers are low (even though I find most of my donors prefer NOT to meet) it looks like I’m not doing my job (even if these same donors are still giving). We measure engagement in addition to financial giving, so having an email relationship is viewed as subpar (the same is true of voice to voice even though I DEFINITELY find most people prefer email over phone). I always err on the side of the donor’s wishes/vibes, but it also leaves me feeling inadequate and defensive (and sometimes in trouble!) when it comes to reporting on performance for # of meetings and live contacts. Would love to hear your thoughts on this tension. Thanks!

  • Richard Perry says:

    Thanks to each of you for writing.

    Amanda: exactly!! You build in your conversations to create a place for a meaningful connection. I love persistence. But the way you describe it, it is respectful and strategic. And eventually you win the donor over. Perfect. And on the email thing…that is simply a path toward a meaningful connection. If you are giving the donor what he wants you will eventually break through to a meaningful connection.

    Sally: you are right. Metrics are often the reason for this kind of behavior. You have to hit a certain number. This is why Jeff and I have, as our central metric, meaningful connections. A meaningful connection can occur on the phone, like Amanda talked about. It can occur in email. And because of those meaningful connections a face to face meeting usually results.

    Sue: shame on those managers who superficially look at a MGOs work and say because the number of face to face meetings are low then the MGO is not doing her work. The real question is how, through all of the media choices you have (email, phone, mail, etc.), are you showing progress in your relationship with each donor. THAT is the real question. And the progress for each donor goes at a different pace. It is true that keeping track of FTF visits is helpful, but it has to be put into the context of relationship and donor wishes.

    Take a look at this blog post on what matters to us on metrics.

    Thanks all for writing.

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