Prioritizing Money Builds Fake Donor Relationships

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By Richard Perry

The relationship costs too much money, so I will save money and not pursue it.

And the result of that decision is disastrous.

Relationships take time. You know that. Your boss knows it. But we ignore time because that is how we have set up things. There is a budget to manage. A forecast to make.

So, we go for the fake relationship. One where we pretend to care, but only if we get the money. We do that — not because we believe it’s the right thing to do but — because we can’t see any other way to deliver on expectations.

And that is the dilemma in major gifts. The push is for instant gratification.

We are dealing with a situation right now where the authority figure does not value relationships. She says she does. She even claims to have a value set that cherishes relationships. But the money is the real value. And the need to grab it is the central drive. So, she is pushing on her major gift officers (MGOs) to get the money and is even threatening to do away with the major gifts program because it is not delivering.

But when we uncover what “not delivering” means in her view, it is not that each MGO is not producing revenue from the same donors over and above last year. Nope. It is that each isn’t producing enough revenue quickly enough.

The real story in this organization is that some of the other fundraising programs are not performing, and major gifts needs to be the scapegoat. It’s all about the money.

This is so sad because these are good people — all of them, including the authority figure. It is sad because the plan to move major gifts into real relationships is facing failure. And that bothers Jeff and me — not because it’s our plan for the organization. No, it bothers us because there are good MGOs and good donors who must revert back to a fake relationship. And that is not good.

One of our major objectives is to influence fundraisers and nonprofit leaders to highly value and respect donors. When we succeed at that, and we do, more often than not, it brings donors, MGOs and leaders a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction. And, it brings the money. You should see the celebration!

But when money is valued over relationship, it is a dark and depressing time for us. That is why the situation I described earlier is so disturbing. It’s not that we are going to lose something. No, that is not it. It’s that some very good MGOs and some very good donors will be forced to live in superficiality and shallowness. And that is not good for anyone. And it certainly is not good for the economic well-being of the nonprofit.

Make a commitment today to real relationships with your donors. And if your organization does not support that, try to influence it to change. If the organization will not change, move on. You have a choice.

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