Major Gifts Malpractice – When Apologies Are in Order is fundraising veteran Norman Gildin’s truth-telling article regarding common mistakes development officers make when raising major gifts. Here’s what Gildin has to say:
When The heaviest weight ever lifted by a powerlifter in a sanctioned competition was 1,104 lbs. by Icelandic strongman Hafthor Bjornsson in May 2020. He achieved this feat in a deadlift.
American powerlifter Ryan Kolb lifted 1,350.3 lbs. on February 4, 2023, during the 2023 International Powerlifting Association competition. He achieved this accomplishment with the equipped bench press.
Finally, the heaviest weight ever lifted by a human being in any manner is 6,270 lbs. by American strongman Paul Anderson in 1957. He achieved this deed in a back lift (weight lifted off trestles). They entered this into the Guinness Book of World Records.
So how does weightlifting relate to making apologies? I would say a lot. And what’s the connection to fundraising? I would suggest it’s significant.
Even if weightlifters break previous records by mere ounces, there is still a limit to how much weight they can lift. Humans have a weight-lifting threshold, which they can reach only with maximum effort. There is only a slight possibility of an increase. It becomes impossible to surpass established records after that. That’s it.
Major Gifts Malpractice – When Apologies Are in Order
Apologies, on the other hand, have no limits. And, conversely, forgiveness also knows no bounds. Generally, we should have an unlimited capacity for both, although not everyone does.
Someone wronged you or hurt your feelings. You wait for an apology, but it’s not forthcoming. Apologies can resolve family disputes, but how many remain unresolved without one? How about friends who break up long-standing friendships because someone does not apologize? In the same way, some families or friends lack the inner fortitude to forgive. Like a lodged fish bone, it sticks in their craw. Leave them to fester and they will only get worse. Nonprofit supporters who deserve apologies, yet don’t receive them, will attest to this.
There is a Jewish tradition of apologizing to someone you have slighted. The Talmud says that you should apologize sincerely three times. If the offended party still does not forgive you, then you should move on because you have done everything possible. Christians say sorry by acknowledging what they did wrong, showing compassion and empathy, expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness. In Islam, you admit your shortcomings, take responsibility and don’t make excuses, offer a sincere “I am sorry” and even proffer restitution, if necessary. The similarities abound.
It’s not that different with philanthropists. The timing of their apology, however, deserves our attention.
It is normally a proper time in fundraising to apologize if the development person or the organization has made a mistake. Sometimes donors are unhappy with a campaign’s outcome. In such circumstances, an apology can be a cost-effective way to prevent future losses if we deliver it on time. Kevin Hancock, an award-winning author, speaker, and CEO, once said, “Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”
Here are some situations when an apology is in order.
- Multiple billings for the same pledge. What triggered my article was an apology letter I found for a $25 pledge. Even though the donor had already paid for it, she was still being billed. Although seemingly trivial at first glance, it mattered to her. She wasn’t a “happy camper.” I even remember calling her to show I was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. Even though she was annoyed, I satisfied her concerns with my verbal and written apologies.
- Mistakes in donor relations. Sometimes a nonprofit mishandles a donor interaction. An example is when the wrong acknowledgment letter is sent. Or the development officer fails to follow up on a promise. An act of contrition is crucial to repairing the damage. Otherwise, the organization’s credibility is at risk.
- Miscommunication or misinformation is given. It is possible that your benefactors were provided with misleading or inaccurate information about the nonprofit’s mission, goals, financials, metrics, activities or the impact of their gifts. The responsibility lies with you to resolve any misunderstandings. You should express your regrets. Expect to lose the trust and confidence in your worthy programs and services if you don’t.
- Delivery delays. Maybe a plaque was promised on the feature wall, a patron’s premium was held up in shipping or special sponsor signage for a fundraiser arrived damaged or didn’t arrive. In the future, the donor may not take you seriously if you do not act contritely, ask for forgiveness, and take prompt steps to correct the problem.
- Technical problems. When websites work, they are wonderful. However, if technical difficulties arise when donors try to access the homepage or donation page, the organization should apologize for the inconvenience. Otherwise, they may take their business elsewhere.
The list of problems that merit an apology is endless. Just know that dissatisfied donors will not take it kindly unless and until the organization sincerely apologizes for its oversights, ineptitudes, glitches or lapses. And remember this: Apologies won’t mean anything if you keep doing what you are sorry for. Always let people know what steps are being taken to remedy the problem. It is also essential that donors receive prompt and sincere replies.
Anything less and you may want to consider weightlifting as your next profession.
About the author: Norman B. Gildin is the author of the recently released book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. His website is at www.normangildin.com.
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