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Donor Relations and the Curse of Competence

Pile of books with a person's hand sticking through holding a sign that says "help!" with a blue overlay and the blog title as text.

Hey there team DRG—on a personal note, I’m back in the saddle and grateful to everyone that has supported me and my family these past three months. It has been one heck of a ride, and I am now well aware of my heightened priorities and responsibilities.

In other news, today’s blog is focused on a topic that comes up all too often in our work with clients, our experiences in our Leadership cohort members, and donor relations professionals everywhere. Our topic today is a concept that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our profession, the curse of competence. Donor relations professionals are amazing—as I’ve stated before they are the Swiss Army knives of the fundraising world. From stewardship reports, to acknowledgments, to event planning and crisis management, we do it all. But should we?

We often get strapped with assignments outside of our job descriptions, and outside of our focus because we are so good at the “everythings.” Competent individuals are often relied upon heavily by others, leading to an overabundance of responsibilities and tasks. This can result in burnout or feeling overwhelmed due to the constant demand for one’s skills.

Ben Franklin once said: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”

If you actually do things, on time and right, you’ve probably set yourself apart from 95 percent of the rest of humanity at work. Work lands on your desk not because the work will challenge or interest you, but simply because other folks trust you to handle it. This tendency for those responsible of consistently assigning tasks to the most capable people happens all the time in donor relations. The curse of competence compels leaders to encumber their best employees with the most difficult work, the most time-consuming work, and/or work that often falls outside of their main responsibilities.

How does this manifest itself in your life and/or with your team? Perhaps you’ve heard these phrases before?

“She’ll get it done. She always does.”

“If you want something done, give it to her.”

“You always step up, thank you for stepping up again and handling this.”

“You’ve got this, right? Yeah, I knew you would.”

“I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

If you are in a leadership position, make sure you are not the one foisting these items on one person simply to account for your teams’ weaknesses. Instead, we must confront and deal with “the curse” and discover opportunities for change.

Here are some solutions to the problem, if you are both the leader and the one cursed:

  • Be mindful of — and resist — the temptation to over-rely on one individual on the team.

  • If you are the one cursed, learn to set boundaries and explain prioritization to your leadership.

  • Separate your sense of self-worth from what you’re worth to your leadership and your job.

  • Familiarize yourself with team members’ strengths and interests—maybe it’s time for some Strengths Finder training?

  • Ask yourself, what does our team culture believe about asking for help? Do I believe I am allowed to ask for help?

How do you manage to avoid the curse of competence? What are some tips and tricks for managing this issue? If you see yourself in this blog, I would love to hear from you, as always we are here to listen and interact. Don’t be afraid to ask us for help!



1 комментарий

I am meeting with my VP today about this very topic. So timely and true! Thanks for always pointing out important topics (and doing so with humor and a lightness).

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