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What To Do When Your Boss Upends Your Careful Cultivation Work

By Stacia Swanson posted 06-01-2021 09:00


You’ve been cultivating a donor for over three years now.

You’ve done your homework and know the donor’s particular passions, how she likes to receive information (and to what level of detail), and the framework of her life that will inform her decisions. You understand relationships take time and the donation will come on her timeline…not yours or the organization’s.

You kept detailed notes in the donor’s record so anyone with access could read about your interactions and progress with the donor.

An Ask Without Your Knowledge

Then you discover your boss went ahead and made an ask without your input, knowledge, or recommendation.

The donor was surprised. She made a gift, although it was much lower than you know she has the capacity to give. Now she’s distant, cautious, and less-responsive.

Your experience and expertise were completely ignored. Why?

Because your boss doesn’t understand the intricate nuances of fundraising. Your boss was impatient and looking for results. Your boss was staring down a looming budget deficit and decided to act.

Maybe you’re partially to blame, too. You didn’t always speak-up when you had an opinion on a particular strategy or campaign. You frequently found yourself holding back out of fear of embarrassing or possibly offending your boss or another colleague, even though you had information that would help them redirect and be more successful. Now what?

How do you convince your boss to let you, the professional, take the lead? How do you help your board and others understand that you are, in fact, an expert in fundraising and relationships? What about your colleagues across the organization who view fundraising (and fundraisers) as a “necessary evil” rather than a partner in fulfilling the mission and vision? How do you remove personal fears and doubts from the equation to better support the efforts of the organization?

Open Communication Saves the Day

It all starts the way any good relationship begins… open, honest, and transparent communication.

I know what you’re thinking—easier said than done! That’s true. Especially if you’ve been with your organization a long time; it’s hard to instill new practices into an old and trusted system.

It doesn’t have to happen all at once. Start small with those closest to you. Approach your boss by sharing what happened with that donor and your rationale for the approach you were taking. Discuss how you will begin working together to heal that relationship while continuing to cultivate and steward that donor using best practices.

Next, consider ways to share your knowledge and expertise with colleagues and board members in a relational way.

Instead of PowerPoints and data, use conversation. Ask them questions! Why are they committed to the organization? What program(s) are they particularly passionate about? Via discover process, share ways YOU can HELP. It will take more than one conversation at one moment in time.

Eventually, you will be seen as someone with smart ideas who can help create and implement a vision. You will establish yourself as an expert in relationship-building that raises money in all of the best ways.

Sharing Your Success

Never forget to share your success. No one should be giving to your organization because of you. She should be giving to the organization because of the work it performs, the community it impacts, and the shared passion between the donor and the mission and vision.

Always thank your colleagues, board members, and volunteers for doing meaningful work donors want to invest in. That shared celebration also invites collaboration for the future, deepening relationships inside and outside of your walls that will ensure continued fundraising success.

1 comment



06-02-2021 11:51

Fantastic post! Something, I'm sure, with which nearly everyone can relate. Great advice on how to make a gradual change and keep the focus on how the donor's philanthropy will make a big impact when you follow the steps carefully and don't rush the timeline (whatever that may be)! 

Deficits are scary, but short-term actions can have long-term impact!