Dancing With A Donor’s Ego: A How To

By Jarrad Howard, Campaign Strategy Study Coordinator

In a meeting with a potential donor, whether they are a new donor or a constant supporter of your organization, I have found that these meetings are never one-on-one. The parties in attendance are always you, your donor…and your donor’s ego. Although uninvited, the ego is ever present in these meetings. Your donor may have had a bad experience. Maybe they have felt used or mistreated by an organization…maybe even YOUR organization. But the ego, as harsh and hard as it may appear, can be a very fragile thing…and learning to navigate it is not such a simple task. It is almost like a dance.

There are a few things to remember when partaking in that ever-so-delicate dance with a donor’s ego:

While this is very simple, it is not always easy. You will have time to give your spiel. Take the time to truly listen to what your donor is saying. Be open. Some of the things they may tell you may not be things that you want to hear. But listen with an open mind and understand that their perception of your organization is their reality, which then, in turn, has the potential to affect your organization’s reality.

Also, listen for what is not being said. Don’t over-analyze but reading between the lines can also give you a feel for what your donor is feeling. And remember that silence is just as much a part of a conversation as words. Are the silences comfortable? Are they tense? Does your donor want to say something but is having a hard time saying it? Be sensitive to this.

Make sure you fully understand their concerns.

Ask clear, concise and genuine questions. This lets your donor know that you truly care about understanding their concerns. Then, when you believe that you fully understand, iterate their concerns back to them to show that you were listening and understand and appreciate their point of view.

Be solution-oriented.

It is easy to get bogged down in issues and problems – steer the conversation towards solutions. Let the donor know what you can personally do to address his or her concerns. WARNING: DO NOT OVER-PROMISE. If, at that moment, you do not know how to fix something…don’t say you do. There are few things worse, in the eyes of a donor, than an organization that doesn’t follow through with its promises. Let them know that you plan to research the issue and address it.

NOTE: This is also where you have to keep in mind that some issues donors have cannot be resolved within your organization. In the end, you must do what is best for your organization, not what is best for one donor. If this donor does not agree with a direction in which your organization is heading, you must consider whether or not this donor’s giving is in line with your mission. Do not compromise your organization for one donor.

Be thankful.

Thank your donor, not only for their donation, but for their time and support of your organization. Being honestly grateful is a great way to tame that ego.

Follow up.

“The fortune is in the follow up.” Every meeting should receive some kind of follow up. Whether it is a thank you card, a phone call or another visit, a follow up should be made for every meeting with a donor. This would be a great time to inform the donor of anything that you or the organization is doing to address their concerns. This follow up lets your donor know that you are grateful for their participation in your organization and that they are not just a dollar sign.

Dealing with donors can be difficult. Dealing with donors’ egos can be impossible. But if you listen effectively, take care to fully understand your donor, offer solutions, sincerely express your gratitude and follow up with your donor, you can tame a lion-of-an-ego down into a harmless kitten. It is all part of dancing with a donor’s ego.

So…you think you can dance?