Have you ever been engaged in conversation with a donor and they spontaneously erupted into tears? This had never happened to me until recently, and I need to talk about it because it really shook me right down to my resource development foundation.
While I need to be sketchy with the details as not to embarrass anyone, I can provide some conversational context and set the scene. The conversation was about a specific non-profit organization that they had been donating to for a very long time. Long story short . . . the non-profit organization is now talking about going out of business and the newspaper is covering the story.
We talked for a long time as the tears flowed, and I was given one of the greatest gifts that any resource development profession could ever be given. I was allowed a glimpse inside the soul of a donor. Here is what they were saddened to tears over (this is their thoughts and not my analysis):
- They believed in their heart in the mission of that organization and were mourning the possible death of something they loved.
- They believed that their financial contributions had been making a difference in the lives of people. Now they have doubts and feel deceived
- They personally solicited friends and asked them to also make a contribution to this organization. Now they feel like they perpetuated a fraud against their friends and aren’t sure they can face their friends.
I was given a gift when I was allowed to bear witness to the raw power of philanthropy. It affects me, and I wanted to share this with you because there are some important lessons that all non-profit professional need to take away from this story:
- What we tell donors regardless of whether it is during cultivation, solicitation or stewardship efforts is like a sacred promise. Many donors take it to heart and deposit it in their emotional bank account. We need to remember this at all times.
- There are people who “go to bat” for those non-profits that they love. They leverage personal relationships all in the name of mission. They are out there making promises to their friends, and we need to do a better job of recognizing that investment. They tell their friends that your agency is a wise investment, and we owe it to them to make sure that is true by always focusing on sustainability and organizational capacity building efforts. Just focusing on programs for our clients that our mission calls us to serve is simply not enough.
- We need to be very careful about what we say publicly in the press about the present state of our agency. Donors take those things to heart. It can affect them deeply. Cavalierly talking about the possibility of closing your doors is the equivalent of playing with someone’s emotions. It isn’t nice and will cost you donors.
I decided to write this blog post because this tearful conversation was impactful. I can’t get it out of my head. It made me profoundly sad and even a little angry. I had hoped that sharing this with others would make me feel better and get beyond it because of my belief that we can all learn from each other. While I do believe this, I am also not feeling any better about things. In fact, I think I am a little sadder as I fight back some tears and a little angrier as I clench my teeth to get through this post.
There can be no doubt that I am physically experiencing the power of philanthropy, and I hope I become a stronger more donor-centered fundraiser because of this experience. My holiday wish for you is that you walk away from this blog post feeling the same way and use this story to become more donor-centered, too.
Have you ever had a similar experience? Has any donor interaction ever affected you in a way that you’ve embraced it and used it to become a better professional? If so, please use the comment box below to share because we can all learn from each other.
Here is to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC