The Balance of Relationship and Business

The role of the Major Gifts Executive (MGE) is to build a healthy relationship with each Major Donor.  However there is a fine balance between being ‘over friendly’ and losing the purpose of building the relationship towards philanthropy.

The relationship of benefactor and beneficiary organisation is different from business to business.  In business, relationships are made with an understanding that it has a purpose, an end business result.  I am selling, you are buying – or the other way round; I am connecting to you for this business purpose.  Conversations over dinner, lunch or during a round of golf have this understanding.

In philanthropy this line is blurred.  I think this is partly because ‘giving’ by a philanthropist is not part of his/her business day, it is his leisure time.   He gives to make a difference.  He is demonstrating his desire to care, to nourish, develop and/or to enhance the life of beneficiaries.  He or she may well have business reasons for doing so and may organise his/her company to be philanthropic, however the mere act of giving goes way beyond business and can be quite deeply personal.

Therefore it can be hard sometimes for the MGE to understand and manage that fine balance.  The MGE is building a friendly environment whereby the benefactor enjoys the MGE’s company, will involve his/her family to engage their children in the philanthropic experience.  The benefactor may want to meet out of hours, may go on trips abroad to see the work first hand.  For example, I have known an MGE join their philanthropist on long dog walks as it has provided a great time to talk.

However, it is really important for the MGE to get the right balance between ‘friendship’ and the need to ‘steer’ the relationship towards the end goal of securing funds for beneficiaries but doing it in such a way that it is enjoyable and rewarding for both parties.  It can be quite a deep experience for the benefactor however it is the MGE’s responsibility to ensure the relationship is built with the organisation rather than just himself/herself.

Ways to do this:

  • Introduce the benefactor to other members of the team
  • Include involvement of charity leadership – Chief Executive or a Director, making sure that this relationship is growing
  • Be very clear on the goal and the planned strategy to get there i.e not just having friendly meetings and phone calls but rather driving it gradually towards a beneficial result for both parties
  • Ensuring that the benefactor is enjoying the relationship but also growing in his/her understanding of the charity and its beneficiaries
  • Provide detail on organisational strategy (big picture vision), project information (detail on where the gift will go), demonstrate impact through video, stories, beneficiary successes
  • The benefactor may want advice and some guidance as to where their money will be best used
  • The relationship is deeply friendly but more one of financial adviser offering counsel

MGE’s can often make these mistake:

  • Being too friendly without moving the relationship on towards giving
  • Asking too soon before the relationship (and trust) is sufficiently built
  • Forging the relationship with one person (themselves) rather than the organisation
  • Stagnating the relationship (nothing new to show or share) so the benefactor withdraws and sees it as time wasting
  • Not making contact frequently enough to engage the benefactor

Every philanthropist is different.  Some may take time to be won over.  Others may have a different passion and interest to what is being offered.  Others may start the friendship but then draw back for time reasons.  There are many variables.  The MGE needs to persevere as some people take time to warm to a charity, but also should recognise when pursuing the relationship is a waste of their time and that of the philanthropist.

The MGE should also strike the balance of friendship and business i.e. building trust and keeping the benefactor interested but not losing sight of the goal – to help the benefactor give to a project they are passionate about to then see the difference their gift has made.

Please let me know your thoughts or ask a question below.

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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