Advancement leaders sometimes find themselves awkwardly positioned with donors. On the one hand, the donor and advancement leader may have a warm, friendly, and comfortable relationship. They genuinely may enjoy spending time with each other. Social scientists call these types of relationships, affiliative.
On the other hand, the advancement leader understands that the donor relationship needs to be more than affiliative. At its core, it should be a relationship formed for the purpose of achieving a bigger goal than simply enjoying each other’s company. Donors help your institution serve more and serve better. They partner with you to make the world a better place, much like an agent would. Social scientists call these types of relationships, agentic.
Engaging donors well, of course, involves both the affiliative and the agentic. And while most all advancement leaders have the skills to construct the affiliative components of the donor relationship, far more advancement leaders struggle to build agentic donor relationships.
So, here are 3 specific ways to help strengthen the agentic aspects of your relationships with donors:
- Develop an Emphasis Cue – an emphasis cue is a verbal phrase that you use to direct the donor away from the more affiliative and friendly aspects of your conversation and toward a more professional or goal setting aspect. For instance, an emphasis cue could be, “I’d like to put my advancement cap on for a minute and share something with you. . .” Or, “Would it be ok if we talk a little business for a moment?” An emphasis cue helps to neatly conclude the affiliative portion of the conversation and clearly move into the agentic portion of the interaction.
- Ask Curious Questions – when we are visiting with friends (which are primarily affiliative relationships) we typically do not ask questions like, “how would you describe your experience with our friendship?” But, in agentic relationships, both parties understand that the goal is something bigger than the friendship. Therefore, asking curious questions that may seem awkward in affiliative relationships can help identify (or remind) the donor that you are visiting with them for more than just a friendly chat. Questions like, “what are the ways in which you believe our institution can serve better in the future?” or, “where would you rank our institution as one of your top philanthropic priorities today?” will help productively frame your relationship with the donor as agentic.
- State a Clear Follow-up – when ending a visit with a donor, it is important to clearly state what the next steps will be, who is responsible, and when those next steps will occur. In almost all cases, the advancement professional should propose a follow-up plan and should volunteer to be the one following-up. For instance, a follow-up might sound like this, “I know you had some additional questions about our plans. I’m going to gather that information and get back to you by Tuesday of next week – will that work for you?” Or, “You mentioned you wanted to talk further with your financial advisor about our gift proposal – that sounds good. If I followed-up with you during the first week of April, would that give you enough time to discuss this with him?“
Most all human relationships have both affiliative and agentic aspects associated with them. Becoming comfortable and learning how to ably move donor relationships into the agentic (while still accenting warm and companionable qualities) is a hallmark of skilled and very productive advancement leaders.