The Eagle and his Captor

A man once caught an eagle and after clipping his wings put him in his hen house where the eagle sat in the corner feeling very depressed. After a while his captor was pleased to sell him to his neighbour, who took him home and allowed his wings to grow again.

As soon as his wings recovered and grew, the eagle flew out, caught a hare and brought it back to his new home. A fox was walking by and said to the eagle ‘Don’t waste your gift on him, go and give it to the man who first caught you – make him your friend and perhaps he won’t catch you and clip your wings again’.

How many times do we become depressed when one of our donors criticises our work? We may feel quite cut up about the words used perhaps accusing our organisation of not providing the right solution, spending too much money on fundraising (as if money raises itself??), not focusing on the most pressing need, declaring the government should provide the service, not trusting how we spend the money, not believing our organisation really makes a difference and the inevitable criticism, spending too much money on marketing and even stamps! These comments can be soul destroying however if you can turn your grumpy donor around you can sometimes form an even deeper relationship that would not have been achieved otherwise.

Often a donor will criticise because they are on your side and really want you to improve…… although it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Pick up the phone and talk to them, explore their comment and try to understand their point of view. Listening to their objection is probably the most important job as usually people just ‘want to be heard’.

Listen without becoming defensive and after they have had their say be equipped to answer their criticism and help them to understand your organisation’s perspective. I promise they will appreciate the time you take to do this. Of course you won’t win over every critic – some people were just born negative but if you have done your best to be kind and they still don’t warm to you, just let them go and forget about them! Don’t allow them to depress you.

You can also talk about the benefits of supporting financially – it will be rewarding for them, it will be a step to improving the lives of others, you will ensure they see the impact of their gift, it will encourage their children to become generous and the government will add to their gift through gift aid (if a tax payer). See the CAF research on why donors give: caf-uk-giving-2018-report.pdf

In one of the sizeable charities I worked in, the organisation employed someone part-time to answer criticisms from donors by post and as a result it was common for those donors to carry on giving and even to increase their giving appreciating the time taken to answer their objection. For grumpy donors it is appropriate and necessary to do this and quite often you can learn from their comments.

Don’t become depressed in the corner of the hen house when you receive negative letters and phone calls, grow your wings and challenge donors who don’t agree with you. A negative donor turned around can quite often become a significant donor in the future. What’s your experience?

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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