You don’t own your donors

Here’s the deal folks. You don’t own your donors.
Too many times I’ve heard chapters say that they don’t want to share planned giving leads with their main office out of fear for lost local revenue. All the while, the folks at the main office try to ensure them that they only want to help.

The decision as to where the money goes after your supporter’s lifetime is theirs— not yours. You can’t control it. You can’t influence it. And, you shouldn’t try to do so.

Instead, your job is to facilitate the process by:

  • Making sure the supporter feels comfortable and has all the information he/she needs
  • Tapping into their desire for symbolic immortality and autobiographical heroism
  • Helping them honor or memorialize a loved one
  • Providing advice, options, information and referrals to experts
  • Letting them know that they can decide what portion they want to go to the local office vs. the main office… it’s up to them

Hoarding donors will get you nowhere.
Ultimately your supporters will do what’s right for them. Your primary concern should be to make them happy — not to coerce the decision so you can book a gift and get the credit. You might not even be working for that organization by the time the gift materializes anyway.

So, if you find yourself trying to serve your personal goals, stop and serve your supporter instead. You don’t own them.

8 responses to “You don’t own your donors”

  1. Jay Smith says:

    I once worked in an organization where the Development Team hardly even TALKED to the Planned Giving Team. Did they share their donor information? No way! Now to be fair I must admit that there were a few, very few, senior Develpopment people who knew the value in cooperating together and actually gave me recommendations of people to call on.

  2. I turned down a job I really thought I wanted….when the Alumni Director said in an interview “Now, you’re not going to touch MY donors, are you?” and the CEO backed her up! Knew it wasn’t going to work well!!

  3. A very timely reminder.
    “My donor…”
    “My {nonprofit}’s donor.”
    These reduce philanthropic people to puppets. And “owning people” is just plain wrong. As fundraisers, we need to tailor our language even as we talk internally!

  4. Scott says:

    So how do you encourage collaboration with the Major Gift Officers when they are measured on current gifts but not on planned gifts? The planned giving efforts are seen as a distraction from their goal of raising current dollars.

    • engagementfundraising says:

      Hi Scott-
      This is a very important and BIG question.
      In the private sector (meaning… at MarketSmart), we measure people based on how they help to support the mission of the company. We make sure their goals are in-line with the overall mission.
      What you are describing is faulty management and poor leadership. Measuring different department staff according to departmental goals creates animosity, infighting and frustration. Measuring them according to how they help one another achieve the overall mission of the organization creates synergy, collaboration, and success.
      So, you’ll need to start at the top and re-do everything from there.
      I hope that helps.
      Here’s more:

  5. Of course, this applies to more than just planned giving situations; indeed, I’m sure that possessiveness and me-first behaviors are much more rampant in day-to-day major gift work.
    One of my first bosses/mentors also said this to me and my colleagues: “You don’t own your prospects. You just get the privilege of borrowing them while you’re at this institution, for the purpose of leaving their relationship with the institution stronger than when you first met them.”
    Also, reading the title gave me an earworm that it took quite a while to shake:

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