Or… why respect should make the nonprofit world go around.
I recently had the opportunity to be on the Heart of Giving podcast with Art Taylor, the President & CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
It was a fun chat, all about donors and giving. I hope you’ll give it a listen. (You’ll get to hear about how we met, many years ago, on stage.)
We talked about many of the things you’ll read about here: nurturing donor relationships, working with your board, and putting more emotion into our communications.
But today, I want to focus on one theme that I felt was woven throughout the chat: respect. (And I have to tip my hat to Jim Langley, President at Langley Innovations for an insightful post I had read before talking with Art that has been top of mind for days now.)
Respect for the people who support your organization’s work
There’s been a bit of back and forth in the sector about donors and whether they’re given too much or too little respect. We bounce between “donor dominance” and “donor love.”
I have zero problems talking about donor love – because I understand we’re not talking about a romantic relationship, but abiding care and respect for the people who support our missions. But too often that’s misunderstood.
Donors are your partners, not your boss. That’s an important distinction because seeing donors as the boss gets in the way of seeing them as partners – people who do or could care as much as you do about your organization’s mission.
But donors should also be treated with respect. And as a donor, I see practices that don’t meet the bar. Respect can start with the smallest things: getting names right, for instance. Prompt and warm thank you letters.
Being honest matters too. I was once told something I knew to be untrue by a development officer at a large organization. Their solicitations continue, but every single one goes in the recycling bin. I have zero tolerance for that!
Will the occasional donor contact you upset or angry? Yes. And dealing well with that is part of being a fundraiser. Think of it as a challenge: how well can I turn this around? Because if you do, that donor will feel closer to your mission. Personal contact matters, even if it starts unpleasantly.
How well do you get on with your board members?
But respect goes beyond donors and fundraisers. How about your relationships with board members? Are they “them”? Or do you also treat your board members as partners?
Part of your work is building great board/staff relationships. You’re both working toward the same goal: more mission or better mission.
And on their end, you should never be treated like “the help”. Condescension toward staff hurts the organization. Partnership helps. And staff leadership needs to underline that to board members.
What about your co-workers?
And how about the people you work with? How well do you know your program staff? Your work may be hard, but often, theirs is really hard. Work with them and you’ll understand the mission better. And… you’ll get the best stories.
If you manage other staff members, you need to be conscious of how you behave as well. Some kindness and trust will take you far when things get tough.
Volunteers are free labor – they’re also donors
Volunteers who aren’t board members are sometimes treated like the lowest on the org chart. They may not give money. But don’t make the mistake of looking down on them because they won’t increase your numbers. Their work matters. And their relationships in your community matter, too. Think about it: in your busy life, what’s easier to give – money or precious time?
There’s one other group that demands all the respect and kindness you can give
One final group that may get pushed aside: the people who benefit from your organization’s mission. If you have the chance to interact with them, take that as a blessing. You get to see the mission at work. And if you treat people with kindness and respect you may earn enough trust to learn more – and to share what you’ve learned with donors.
In all these situations, empathy is your superpower. And while that might seem like a lot of giving at first, what you learn is that it pays amazing dividends. You will get as much as you give.
Because your work isn’t just work. You’re not making widgets. You have the absolute privilege of working to make the world a better, brighter, kinder place. And if that doesn’t fill you with gratitude and joy, I encourage you to give it more thought.
Photo by Tiago Felipe Ferreira on Unsplash