6 Circles that will Change your World

Read about the invisible thing that holds you back at your nonprofit

MT: Let’s say that for example, I’m a new development director and I want my executive director to trust me. How would I start making this happen?

MP: I think it’s called transactional analysis.

MT: I actually do have a book on transactional analysis that I just got by Eric Berne: The Handbook of Transactional Analysis.

MP:  I go through this when coaching clients when there are lack of trust situations. We need to look at ourselves. We have to start with ourselves. That’s where I would tell your development director. Start with yourself. The transactional analysis thing is you draw three circles on top of each other. A circle and then another circle, another circle. Then you do it on the other side. A circle, another circle, another circle. So you have six circles. They kind of look like two snowmen.

transactional analysis diagram

In the top circles, you write P. In the middle circles you write A. In the bottom circles you write C. The top circle is the parent. The middle circle is the adult and the lower circle is the child. Too often in fundraising and in organizational leadership, we approach it from a parent child relationship. The employee is the child, demanding that the parent give them the peanut butter sandwich. Or the boss is the parent demanding that the child obeys.

We do this in fundraising too. The nonprofit is the child, demanding that the rich parents give them money and having a tantrum and a hissy fit when they don’t. That doesn’t work well. There is a situation that works parent child. It’s a stage that many are supposed to grow out of. Many don’t. But when we start to decide, okay, I’m a responsible adult and I’m going to choose to speak to the adult in the other person.

One of my coaching clients had a situation where somebody was hired out of her department. Her boss hired someone out of her department without even checking with her. There was all sorts of other things wrong with the department because the goals were still the same, but she kept not having the resources to be able to reach those goals. Then he went and did this too. So I had her draw these circles. I said, now you as an adult need to speak to him as an adult. Instead of doing the demanding and the tantrum you want to do.

Because it was a really good move for the person from her department. She was totally excited for her in that sense. So I said, you can say that. That’s an adult comment. That’s really exciting for this person. Now, speak to him as an adult. I know you’re leading this organization. I know you wouldn’t do this without having a plan. I’m seeing same goals, with even less resources than we’ve had before.

Instead of saying, “what were you thinking?”

Say, “what were some of the ideas you had for still making sure that the fundraising happens?”

So the first thing I’d say for the development director to the executive director is talk adult to adult.

Acknowledge that being an executive director a really tough role and if you’ve never been the head of an organization, it’s hard to imagine all the pressures that are on them.

So here’s what you can say to your boss.

“I want to make sure we have a successful relationship. I’m excited about this nonprofit. What I have seen in other organizations is that the board just says, here is your goal. Then it gets passed on from the executive director to the fundraising office as though it’s going to be done. As though there is a magic lever we can pull and just raise 50% more money without any historical precedent.”

What are things that we can be doing to help you know that we’re doing the fundraising? Because I want to reach our goals.

What are things that you’ve seen successful in the past?

What do you like from other organizations that you hear about?

They’re all questions like we’d ask a donor. What interested you in the nonprofit first? What other nonprofits are you giving to? We’re treating our boss with that same respect. That will set you head and shoulders above a lot of your peers because many people don’t have the emotional intelligence and maturity to do that.

The other thing is to keep your commitments.

A lot of major gift people, fundraisers anyway, are so future oriented. They think that have all the time in the world to hit their goals. So they need to have artificial systems of what is their monthly goal? They have to have structures to help them keep doing the tasks because it’s boring and it’s not fun. Some of it is not with other people. So if they’re an extrovert, they want to be out with other people. Then they may forget to actually ask for money. So keeping the commitments to themselves, why they’re there. Then showing them to their boss.

When I was an alumni director and I had no fundraising responsibility technically, but I had to keep asking for money because it was so much fun. But I was all relational. So I created a very simple spreadsheet. My goal to myself was to fill both sides of it every week. There were 120 spots on it. I put the name of the person, what kind of communication. Because I knew that I preferred email. But I knew that letter, face to face, phone and email were the four that I needed.

Then what stage in the process were they at? Was I cultivating them, asking them, or thanking them? Then some notes. Then also I wanted the name to have the class year so that I could see that I wasn’t just talking to my cohort of alum, that I was talking to a wide range. Any call that came in, I’d log on the sheet. Any call that went out, I’d log any visits I had. I’d log them on the sheet. I didn’t hit the 120 every week. But every week I did photocopy both sides and write my boss’ initials and then FYI and my initials and put it in her inbox. I just wanted her to see that there was something tangible happening without her having to put effort in. 120 people were being touched. 50 people were being touched. Relationships for the school being deepened without her having to be part of that.

It also helped, when we had other conversations, to be able to then say, so where do I shift my weight?

Because I created some sort of tangible way of showing, I am doing my work. It’s called impression management. It’s crucial. Too often we don’t think about that. We just expect them to believe that we’re doing the work. That’s a hard thing to do, especially when they’ve been burned a number of times before.

MT: Oh, yeah. I mean, ideally you’re meeting with your boss at least once a week in the morning on a Monday for five minutes and saying, “What are my priorities for the week?” Then unfortunately, in organizations with little trust, you do this thing called CYA. You know? Cover your ass.

MP: I’m with you.

MT: Then you’re doing that thing where you’re saying, here’s what I did this week, at the end of the week.

MP: I would say that actually can be good motivation. Because a lot of us are more motivated by fear than we are by good things. So if it is fear that motivates you to do CYA, one of the things as a development director or a fundraiser, you need to be logging stuff into your database. You need to have a database. You need to be logging it in so that the executive director can punch a report of activity and see yeah, this is good. It’s here.

It’s a pain in the neck. It’s really awful because it’s tedious. It’s a time suck for many people that just don’t find that as a – like me, that just find that as a time suck. But it is valuable. I know some people, consultants that actually do bullet point lists of all the things that they did for each client each week. So every Friday they’ll have a time of reporting just in case they’re asked. Often times there’s enough trust that it doesn’t matter. Or they’ll send it. They just have a habit of sending a weekly report.

But there have been some times in my consulting when I’ve been doing some consulting gigs where the lack of trust got to a point where their lack of work was reflecting poorly on our consulting. It was good to have these reports with the what do you need? It ended with what do you need from me. What help I could use. What are the tasks that you’re responsible for as a client? Have weeks and weeks of background that we’d sent them saying this isn’t getting done. It’s not because we’re just pulling this on you six months later. We’ve been telling you for six months. You can see. We’ve tried different ways to tell you. We need you to do this.

So having stuff on paper or in a recorded way that you can find it is CYA. It is something that can cover yourself. But it’s also something that can be used to build trust, to show that yeah, I’m doing my work. I would say your approach of what are my priorities this week, that’s the first level. But that’s still child to parent in some ways. Even building your trust even more is going to them saying – and it takes a little while to know what their priorities are or to know what the relationship is like.

But you’ll say, here are the four things I’m working on. These are the top priorities.

“Are there things that I’m missing that you’re seeing coming down the pike? Are there other things that you think are important?”

Because most people are hiring people that are experts in their field. So the CEO tends to not be an expert in fundraising. So that gives you the opportunity to say, “I actually have to spend the eight hours this week writing thank you notes.” That is a priority. Know that you can know that that’s what you know as an expert in your field. That’s going to actually be the most significant thing you can do for your fundraising. That may look like nothing to a boss or board that doesn’t understand that showing gratitude actually raises more money too.

MT: Right. I’m so grateful that you shared these phrases for people to take back to their offices. This is what it looks like when you do have more trust, and not to be in a parent child kind of dynamic.

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