By Angie Joens
They say patience is a virtue. Ugh—how many of you reading this cringe when you hear that phrase? I don't like to wait. I was not blessed with the patience gene. I like to be in constant motion and love it when multiple things are happening simultaneously. This drive has served me well most of my career, but it has also gotten me into trouble—I have pushed too hard to meet a deadline and missed something critical; I rushed a conversation with people who needed more time; I asked too soon.
Honestly, the most difficult lesson I have learned in my career (and life) is patience is important. It's not always about checking something off the to-do list. It's not about who can get there faster. It's certainly not possible to have everyone on my timeline. Sometimes you have to be patient.
Patience is also one of the most important skills in fundraising. We have to use patience when following our plans, even when our leaders are looking for fast results. It takes time and patience to build trusting relationships. To truly get to know our donors and their interests and motivations for supporting our organizations. We have to make time to ask questions and seek to learn. And when we follow our plans, ask questions, and sit and wait for the answers—this is when the magic can happen.
I'm thinking about patience a lot this week because my organization just closed a transformational gift from a donor a volunteer introduced to us in 2009. If you are counting—that was 13 years ago. Honestly, the work began with team members who are no longer with our organization—we picked up where they left off. It took time to build the relationship. It took finding the right project that would inspire this donor. It took dozens of iterations of proposals, research papers, and presentations to get it just right. It took meetings—so many meetings—with different players learning and listening, and finally, when the donor was ready, asking for the gift. It took weeks to get the gift agreement in place. It took patience (determination, grit, and perseverance) and a massive team of people to get this one incredible transformational gift closed.
We learned a lot during this process, and I want to share some of the best lessons learned:
Make Time and Space for Your Donors. Take time to listen—really listen—to what your donor wants and is trying to accomplish. Let them ask you questions. They are trying to achieve something with their giving. Only they will know what will work best.
Silence is Strategic. Give your donors time to contemplate what you are saying and come up with their responses. Wait for the answers. Silence can be uncomfortable for many of us, but if we pause and embrace the silence, we give our donors the respect they deserve—and in turn, they provide us with the information we need to tailor our strategy.
Be Donor Centered. We all have goals we are trying to hit every year, and our leadership is putting pressure on us to close the gift. But these are our organization's timeframes—not the donors. Put the donor at the center—always. This is their decision, and they must get all their questions answered. They need to consult with their advisors and may want to include their families in this decision. So, honor their timing and honor them.
Trust the Process. Generally, the larger the gift, the longer the process. Be curious, be empathic, listen, watch for clues, and be persistent—you will know when it is time. Don't rush it, or you may leave money on the table.
It Takes a Village. Larger gifts require larger teams to help manage the relationship. If you just have one person managing the relationship with this key donor, what happens if they leave? Remember—the average tenure of a gift officer is 18 months.* We need to plan for this and build out a team of people who "know" the donor. People to consider—your senior fundraising leadership, your organizational leadership, your donor relations professional, your communications professional, someone from finance or accounting, and so on.
Patience is a virtue in fundraising and working with our donors. We need to remember it's about our donors, not our organization. It's about what they hope to achieve with their gift, not our goals. We need to practice listening and waiting. And if we do all of this, we will see the pay-off in strong, trusting relationships and transformational giving.