Too often gift officers focus on the donor and miss the human being.
Donors are conduits for gifts. Donors are assets to be managed. Donors are, God-forbid, “giving units.”
Human beings, on the other hand, are holistic. They are complex and nuanced. They are souls with lived experiences and stories.
When a gift officer shares a gift solicitation strategy with me about a particular major gift donor, I ask, “what’s their story?” If the responses to that simple question are focused on the gifts they’ve made previously, their financial capacity, their volunteer history, or any other “donor-centered” attribute, I ask the question again.
It’s a research assignment to know a donor’s giving history, capacity, and philanthropic interests. It’s a relationship outcome which allows you to better understand your donors as human beings.
Tell me about their childhood. How they met their spouse or partner if they have one. Tell me how they got into their profession or business and what they view as the keys to their successes. What hobbies do they enjoy? Tell me about them as individuals, as family members, as, well, humans.
If the gift officer has trouble communicating the donor’s more personal narratives, then perhaps, I suggest, the timing of a major gift solicitation is premature. Perhaps they need to ask more thoughtful questions and spend time gaining an understanding of the donor as a complete person.
It is, after-all, your friends – not mere acquaintances and certainly not single-dimensional “donors” – who will invest most substantially with you.
Asking donors to make gifts defines the lowest level of gift officer activity. Engaging individuals as whole human beings and, then, inviting them to experience the joy of giving in support of a worthy mission, defines gift officer success.
If you want “donors” to care more deeply about your institution’s story, it’s best to start by asking about theirs.