Unstated Expectations

When each was recruited to serve, what percentage of the members of your institution’s governing or Foundation Board were invited into a conversation about the giving expectations associated with Board membership?

How many of your institution’s major donors have affirmingly stated, “we will continue to be supportive,” after finishing their most recent major gift with no invitation to talk further about what that specifically means?

How many prospect management meetings have you attended in which a gift officer said confidently, “Oh, they will make a gift,” with no follow-up questions asked about how she came to that conclusion about that donor couple?

As advancement leaders, it isn’t enough to get the initial, vague “yes,”- to Board membership, to the next major gift, or to a first gift.  In many ways, that’s the easy part of our role.  We happily accept a broad, fuzzy response onto which we immediately place an undeserving dollop of optimism.

No, the real work occurs when we clarify with the donor what comes after the initial “yes.”

At first glance, these follow-ups can seem like difficult conversations.  But, the reality is that they are not.  The initial “yes” has opened the door.  All we have to do is walk through it.

“When might be a good time for us to talk further about some of the expectations regarding Board membership?”

“I’d love to hear more about how you are thinking of making an impact next. . . .”

“Have you given thought to making a gift that. . .”

Clarifying expectations (both the donors and yours) is a key skill of effective advancement professionals.

Because more often than not, hearing a definite “no” from donors or volunteers is not nearly as frustrating as wondering why unstated expectations were never met.


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