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Handling the Difficult Donor

Handling the Difficult Donor It’s late. I’m about to turn off my computer and leave work for the night when he calls. He’s one of my top donors. I asked him for a six figure gift a month ago. He’s called every week since. First he wanted to know how much revenue we made from our recent event after expenses. Next he wanted a report documenting how many of our students went on to a four year college and what their majors were. Tonight he’s asking for a detailed expense analysis calculating the cost per student for each program we offer.

Occasionally in my classes and custom trainings get an earful about demanding donors. I have a name for this. I call it “the tyranny of philanthropy”. When it comes to demanding donors, you might ask yourself is getting this funder worth the expense? But would you ever turn down a donor?

My donor was a retired CFO who generously supported a handful of charities. But first they had to pass his tests and make no mistake, there would be several. As we struggled to jump through his hoops we asked ourselves – do we have irreconcilable differences in how we define program success? Ultimately, we didn’t get the 6 figure gift. He supported us but modestly so.

Recently a participant in my Fundraising Bootcamp class shared a brilliant strategy she used to solve a challenging donor she struggled to please. I wished I’d tried it all those years ago.

How’d she do it? She simply asked her donor their advice how they’d handle the situation. She was careful to keep the details vague enough to not outwardly give away their identify. The result? Worked like a charm. Ready to try it yourself? Follow these two steps.

First, ask permission to ask them a question. I coach everyone in my trainings to always first ask a donor their permission to ask questions. This shows respect for the donor, the topic, and how you are using their time. It also has the added subtle psychological benefit of getting them to start agreeing with you! Start with “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Next introduce the challenge. For example, “I’d like to ask your advice with a generous, well respected donor I’m working with.” Her donor told her exactly what he would do and on top of giving her great insight into solving the problem, most importantly he told her exactly how he would want to be addressed! The result? Problem solved! A proud, respected donor who felt even more engaged. And a relieved and accomplished major gift officer! Mission accomplished.

If you want tips like this and more to work smarter, not harder delighting and upgrading your donors managing your board I hope you will join me and your peers for Fundraising Bootcamp! As a special thank you, we’re giving Guidestar readers $100 off our October and November classes in DC and New York. Just enter code “FRIEND” at check out to get this special rate, but hurry only a few spots remain!

Hope to see you there!

Handling the Difficult Donor

The preceding is a guest post by Rachel Muir, CFRE & Vice President of Training at Pursuant where she transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers through classroom, custom and online training. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show. Follow Rachel on Twitter here and Pursuant on Twitter here.

Topics: Events