An Open Letter To A Gift Officer

Dear Gift Officer:

Thank you for contacting me and asking for a first visit over coffee.  I was honored to receive your call.  And I especially was pleased that our schedules matched and we could meet on relatively short notice.

When you arrived at the coffee shop, your warm smile and confident approach were appreciated.  You struck me as professional and congenial all at once.  We sat, sipped our drinks, and small talked.  We covered the usual topics — the weather (yes, travel has been brutal recently), updates on work, and other bland topics as I recall.

And then you pulled out a neatly packed folder filled with information about your institution and began to update me on the latest news.  The information was superb.  The materials in the folder were impressively designed and communicated compelling plans.  You were deft in your oral recitation – covering all of the facts, figures, and statistics with nimbleness and ease.   You even brought me a pen!  It was a great presentation.

But, there was a problem.  I wasn’t looking for a presentation.  And I didn’t ask for the update.  It’s not that I don’t care.  My wife and I have increased our annual gifts for many years consecutively.  So, it’s not that we don’t care.  But, I was expecting a visit.  I thought you wanted to meet me, not pitch me.

You didn’t ask me any substantive questions about my work (which always strikes me as odd especially when gift officers know what I do for a living).  You didn’t ask me any thoughtful questions about my wife and family, even though both our names are on the gifts we give.  And you didn’t ask me any questions about our experience with your institution.   You wanted to tell me what was important to you, not ask me what was important to me.

Clearly, you knew your case for support.  But, you didn’t do your real job – which was to learn more about the person you were visiting – the whole person.

I was honored when you called me to set up our visit.  I took your invitation to mean that an institution that my wife and I care deeply about was acknowledging us.  I thought you were saying, “We see you!”

Instead, your very professional and prepared presentation left me feeling like you were saying, “We hope to see your next gift.”


Jason McNeal



  1. Early on in my development career I’ve fallen into the trap of “We hope to see your next gift” and not taking the time to peel through the relationship onion and getting to the core of the “whole person”. Fast forward to today and my approach is listening first (90% donor) talking (10% myself).

  2. Early on in my development career I was more concerned about “the gift” than the person behind the gift. Through trial and error I figured out that its’ the friendship that you develop with the person that will drive significant gifts. My rule is listen (90%) and talk (10%) when meeting with donors.

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