In the social sciences, a microexpression is defined as “a brief, involuntary facial expression” shown when one is trying to conceal or repress an emotion. Microexpressions occur within 1/25th of a second and most people report not being able to identify microexpressions in themselves or others.  Simply put, microexpressions are those expressions that verify our true feelings and beliefs.  We may want to smile when we are disappointed, but the sad microexpression will give our true feelings away.

Similarly, I believe development officers unwittingly display “micro-signs” to donors.  Micro-signs are those small actions or behaviors which verify our true feelings about working with donors.  Are we open and embracing of working with donors?  Or do we wish all the volunteers simply would leave us alone?

Most of us in the development field will say we strive to work more closely with our donors, but our micro-signs may tell a different story.  Below are 3 micro-signs which, I believe, suggest we may not be as interested in partnering with donors as we would have them believe.

1.  Not giving out your mobile number.  In today’s world, I remain stunned how many times I am unable to get a mobile number from an executive assistant or receptionist for the VP or DOD.  The other day I was calling to confirm an appointment and learned that the prospect was not yet in the office.  “I’m scheduled to meet with her at 9:30am,” I said.  “Can you give me her mobile number so I can confirm that meeting with her?”  “We don’t give out mobile numbers,” was the response.  “Not even for your development officers?” I asked.  “No.”

So, let me get this correct, you are a Vice President for Development and you withhold your mobile number from potential donors?  Not good.

2.  No contact information on the web.  Some organizations are taking down pictures and contact information of development staff members because of aggressive talent searching online by other organizations.  Such a strategy may save a few development staff members from leaving over time, but it injures the “culture of connection” that most programs aim to build with donors.  If I’m your donor and I can’t quickly and easily find the development staff member contact information online, I’m a bit turned off by your organization.

3. A lack of donor stories on the web and in publications.  If you aren’t telling your story from the perspective of your current donors, you are missing a most compelling way to encourage support from new donors.  Think of what having too few donor stories says to a future donor:  “You all care enough to accept gifts, but not enough to highlight our importance to the organization.”  As a new donor to your organization, if I don’t see many donor stories and testimonials, I may believe you aren’t interested in spotlighting your donors.  And if you aren’t overly-interested in reaching out to those who support you financially, I’m not sure that your organization is the right place for me to invest.

Most development officers will say that they are extremely “donor-centric.”  However, if any of the above 3 micro-signs are present in you or in your shop, you may not be giving off the appropriate micro-signs to prospective donors.  We should always be encouraging and inspiring with donors, and our micro-signs should be in alignment, not competition with those goals.


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