Walking in Your Donors ShoesOne of the beautiful qualities of all great major gift fundraisers that I have known is their ability to have and show empathy for their donors. Having a high level of empathy for others allows you to be aware of someone else’s situation, to feel deeply and understand them.
Many times during the course of the year, you’ll feel frustration toward your donors. “Why isn’t he getting back to me?” “She said she would make their gift in May and it’s almost mid-June; she never keeps her word.” “She said this year she was in a position to give a six-figure gift and she only sent us a check for $10,000.”
And there are many more situations that you’ll encounter this year that will lead you down a path where you are feeling that your donor is doing something bad to hurt you or punish the organization. It’s a gut reaction.
The key question I have for you is this: what will be your response after the initial gut reaction of disappointment about a donor’s action or inaction that frustrates you?
I’ve known too many major gift fundraisers that go down a negative path. They think the worst of a donor, start talking “trash” internally about them with colleagues (or worse yet, with other donors or board members), and either consciously or unconsciously stop serving that donor the way they should.
Have you ever done this?
I’m not writing to shame you. But perhaps I want to bring to light what happens if you don’t check yourself on it – the potential hurt you could bring to your organization and to your donor when the donor doesn’t do something you want them to do.
I recently read a very interesting article from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where Dr. Sara Konrath and Maarten Bout researched 572 fundraiser contact reports. Here was something I found interesting in this report:

“Overall, we found a small, but statistically significant correlation between cognitive empathy (the intellectual process of understanding another’s perspective, needs and desires) and cumulative giving. This could mean that when a fundraiser looks out for the donors’ interests, this makes donors give more. However, it could also mean that when donors give more, fundraisers are more likely to look out for the interest of the donor.”

Makes sense, right? The more empathy you show, the more a donor will give – and the more they give, the more you look out for the donor… a basic human response.
But as I asked above, what happens when the donor doesn’t act like you want them to, or disappoints you and the organization in their giving?
What will be your reaction to the donor?
If Richard and I were sitting with you at that moment of disappointment, frustration or anger toward a donor, we would ask you to step back a moment, take a breath and imagine for a moment why the donor took that action.
Remember, this is not about you or your organization. It’s about the donor. Consider the donor who said she was able to buy a $50,000 table at the gala and now she could only buy two $1,000 tickets. Perhaps she had a huge financial loss in her business, and she is really worried. Or the donor who said he was giving $10,000 in May and has yet to give in June – maybe he had a family situation come up that he didn’t expect, and it’s taken his attention away from your organization.
The point is this: seek to understand rather than to go down a negative path about your donor, a path that could divert your heart and mind away from properly serving that donor.
Walk in their shoes for a moment. Let it sink in. Then seek to understand.
I mean, what if you took the attitude that the more a donor disappoints or frustrates you, the more care, concern and understanding I’m going to have for her?
Richard and I believe (and science backs this up) that the more empathy you have toward your donor, the more they will be drawn to you and the mission of your organization. (Tweet it!)
Make 2019 the year of practicing empathy. Let that be your guide as you develop deeper relationships with your donors.