Tact: On the Importance of Kindness

The Scene: One of Houston’s myriad mattress retailers. [Seriously, why are there so many?] My wife and I, looking for a new guest room mattress. Twenty-something salesperson who couldn’t seem less interested in closing a sale.

SALESPERSON: This mattress is $800.
Us: Okay, we are looking to spend about $600.
SP: Okay, maybe, but I need to call my manager to approve it.
Us: Okay, go for it.
SP: No, I’m not gonna call him unless you definitely buy it. He’s a very busy man.
Us: ……..
SP: ……..

I was flummoxed. As the only people in the store, it seemed odd to put so much effort into losing a sale. That may not have been the intent, but it happened. Imagine if fundraisers did this? Yeah sure we want your major gift, but I’m not gonna connect you with my executive director unless you guarantee you’ll make the donation.

There is something to be said for tact, and common sense and subtlety are so important in the donor (or customer or client) experience. I say it often, this is the field of feel, where nuance and thoughtfulness go very far. You catch more flies with stewardship than you do vinegar. Or something…

To be clear, some nonprofits work this way. Heck, I’ve worked for some of them. And it might just work and it might just be fine. But who really shines by being fine? Especially as it relates to philanthropy, there’s A LOT of competition out there, and we all need to be our best nonprofit selves. [Note: This piece is a few years old, and the focus is a little social media-heavy, though good wisdom is ageless.]

So get out there, nonprofiteers, and sell those mattresses. Or raise awareness of your mission. Whatever, really, just do it graciously. Always and in all ways. Onward!


The 7 Faces of Fundraisers

Some people may know the early 90s book, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. It mused on seven types of donors — the “socialite,” the “investor,” etc. The book is a quarter-century old, though it still holds its weight in the canon of good practice literature.

Since there are, evidently, seven types of donors, I thought it would be fun to explore the types of people asking those donors for support. I give to you, THE SEVEN FACES OF FUNDRAISERS

  • The Lazy Larry — You’re not at all sure what this person does all day, since they’re never out with donors. They spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and absolutely no one is surprised when they leave after 18 months, just a few weeks before you learn the organization won’t meet its fundraising goal. Thanks, Larry.
  • The Michael Scott — Much like the character from The Office, this person somehow remembers everything about every donor, like grandchildren’s birthdays, favorite cars, spousal musical interests and beyond. It’s magical to experience, though replicating this skill is impossible. If they quit, you are screwed.
  • The Sleeze — Much like Clementine from this post, this person is always fundraising, irrespective of the situation. Doesn’t matter if it’s a luncheon, funeral or doctor visit, they are always talking about their organization in the most smarmy way possible, and it’s gross.
  • The Overachiever — Your organization wants to do an annual appeal, capital campaign AND gala, even though there’s only one development staffer? No problem, the overachiever has your back! Not one of those things will get done well, but by golly, “E” for effort. Much like Lazy Larry, this one may also be gone in 18 months, but only because they need to go “find themselves” in a new job at Lululemon.
  • The Transition-ist — This one doesn’t make any sense on paper. They come from a totally different field like corporate banking or Starbucks, perhaps with the expectation they might bring a fresh perspective. Usually they spend too much time talking about “how things used to be” at their last gig, with nonsensical suggestions on how to do things like “scale up” or “optimize.”
  • The Analyst — Numbers are the only thing that matter. Did you make your goal, no. Will the organization have to lay people off, yes. But new donor acquisitions are up by 3 percent, so, winning!
  • The No Nonsense Nicholas — Colleagues and contributors alike love working with this person. They have passion for the mission, don’t overstep with donors, never suggest new program ideas just to solicit funds and they are generally super pleasant. Similar to The Michael Scott, this one is a unicorn.

So does this sum it up? Who is missing from the list? Inquiring minds want to know…

[See also, The Five People you Meet in Nonprofits]


A Day in the Life

Non-Profit Organization: *sends print invitation for a program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends email reminder #1 for the program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends email reminder #2 for the program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends final email reminder for the program*

Donor: *responds, declining the invitation*

Donor, arriving at the program anyway, the next day: “Why don’t you have me on the list?”