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"She Stole My Donor!"

Over the course of my career I supervised many individuals and many teams of development officers. I adjudicated many issues during that time.

Stealing Donors

The one that bothered me the most were issues around "taking other peoples' donors." This came up time and again:

  • The first time I heard it was when the CEO of one organization where I had worked in the past called the Director of the second institution where I was currently working. I had been there four days. He complained that he shouldn't have hired me because I would be stealing all of their donors. Wow. I was floored. While the missions were both related to medicine there was no overlap whatsoever. I couldn't have stolen donors if I had wanted to.

  • The second time it happened was with one of my staff members who was very competent in many ways. He couldn't make his goals that year because another development officer had "stolen his donor." I went into the data base as he sat with me and noted that no one had spoken with the donor in more than three years and the woman he was accusing had a full strategy stating her intention of working with the donor. The accuser's name appeared no where. No case for the accusation or not making his goals--for multiple reasons.

  • A development officer came to my door and said that one of her former donors was calling her because her colleague had not gotten back to answer his questions. Hmm. I ask her to call the colleague herself, which she did. Twice. She emailed him each time, but the donor still did not receive a response. The donor planned to give $500,000 for a particular project and now stated that he didn't want to work with the gentleman, he felt he couldn't trust him. After I called the development officer and got no response, I talked with his supervisor. Again the issue of stealing arose...what? Not responding to a donor is a major error. Stealing was not in it at all.

Other examples abound but I think this gives you the idea.

First, no one can steal another person's donor, not if the relationship is strong and that's what we should all strive for. Strong relationships don't just happen. They are nurtured for all the right reasons. You can only proceed with creative ideas that will have impact if you have a rock solid relationship with the donor or prospect.

Key Factors Critical to Development Success

Basic requirements for working with a donor call for responding when they call, providing them with information that they need to make a decision, perhaps helping them with referrals when they need them, being courteous at all times, acknowledging their gifts each and every time and thinking about their interests so that you can best steward them at every juncture.

This past year I have had the time to review what helped to make development so successful within the various departments in which I worked. What situations and relationships resulted in very special gifts that created impact and at times transformation for certain initiatives and programs? Understanding this is important to me because I would like to continue to make those same impacts within the organizations with which I work.

Here are some of the common factors necessary to secure major gifts--thus developing a trusting donor/prospect relationship:

  • Belief: If you believe that you can make it happen, then it is likely that you will. You believe in yourself, you believe in the expertise at your organization, you believe in the mission or the project, in your colleagues and assistants...if you believe in good health and good cheer...if you believe that you should part with a person so that they want to see you again...if you believe you can do it, you will act as if you can and the donor or prospect will believe it, too.

  • Commitment: No matter what field you are in, you have to be something of a fanatic to be successful. If you think about your donors even while you are getting ready for work or when you are exercising, then you begin to understand how to give everything to your chosen field and to your clients. This will take you to extraordinary levels of productivity and performance and the donors and prospects will follow with enthusiasm.

  • Courage: Courage comes from acting with strength every day. Even if one is worried or frightened, it is the ability to act in the face of such feelings. No one ever said that it is easy to be a development officer--fear of not making goals, fear of not developing a broad enough or deep enough portfolio of prospects, fear of rejection, pressures from others who are worried that you are not going to make your goal, etc. Yep, development has it all. A great deal of courage is required.

  • Vision: Know who you are and where you are going...set your vision. Visualize success in all that you do...visualize a great relationship with a donor and over time this will gradually come true. If you can visualize then you will have a clear and consistent focus and that will certainly be appreciated by those with whom you come in contact, prospects and donors included. You will act according to your vision.

  • Creative Imagination: Albert Einstein said that "to raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination." It is surely true in the world of limited resources. As I watched investigators in the medical center wrestle to find solutions for the care of patients, it was very similar to development officers wrestling to find the best ways to present a great idea, or develop a persuasive approach to help a donor understand the impact their gift could have. This is particularly true as the gifts get larger--everyone involved has increased expectations. Without this key factor, your work can go no where.

All of this and more is what is required to develop the kinds of trusting relationships that prospects and donors appreciate. Throughout my career I worked hard to ensure that our teams worked carefully and with great appreciation towards the donors. That doesn't mean that we were always right. But trying every day in every way is a good start. If your donors feel as positively about you as you do about them, if you strive on their behalf each and every time, if you approach the relationships keeping the above key factors in mind, stealing a donor simply is off the table. It just won't and can't happen.


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