Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Donor Relations and development training at its finest, from Mom!

As I sat on the train this morning, I was working on my next blog post and also wondering simultaneously if my mom would receive her mother’s Day card today. And then it hit me, I am a donor relations professional because of my mother. Put the non-applicable degrees aside and the years of experience, Donor Relations and development fundamentals I learned from a great source, Mom. I will go through the essentials and then you can comment and tell me if I am wrong…

1. The ability to write custom, personal hand written thank you notes, that is a direct result of not being able to play with my birthday or Christmas presents until my notes were written. This is the core of what I do, giving gratitude and my mom is an expert with note card and ink, she even made me practice extra in my big chief notebooks to make sure my script was legible and dignified, something that to this day I take great pride in. I have built many a relationship and strengthened others with a simple four sentence note of appreciation.
2. Ahh, how to have great table manners and etiquette, including her three big ones, never ordering off of the kids menu, never being a difficult orderer (no sauce on the side here)- can we say hello to those people who RSVP to your events wanting a “South Beach Diet” entrée? And the importance of always deferring to the person “hosting you” to order the wine, and if we want to share appetizers, mimicking their ordering to make sure I was in line. And this is why now, when I hire someone I always try to have at least one interview involving food!!
3. The importance of ALWAYS RSVPing. Making sure that the hostess never had to follow up with me and we always made the deadline!! How I wish everyone else felt this way!
4. The priceless etiquette of great gift giving making sure it is personal, custom, and purposeful, while still remembering her mantra- “Buy them something they wouldn’t buy themselves” This eliminates the need for embarrassing dust collecting tchotckes in my work career and has allowed me to really wow some donors with great gifts!
5. The importance of relationship building, things like remembering names, knowing if someone is left handed for seating purposes, knowing favorite works of art and flowers, all of the little details that make people know you value their relationship. When a family would come over to visit, my mother would have a little something for each child (and to keep them occupied) and we NEVER went to someone’s home empty handed.
6. Being the consummate hostess, my mother hosted many corporate parties and that meant that she always attended to others needs first and was the last one to eat or drink at an event, a rule I still have for my team. I get to eat at the tastings, not at the events! You too should be consumed with making sure everyone else’s glasses and plates are full and never have anyone ask you where the trash can is because from across the room you glide over and clear their plate or take away their empties, people notice this and love it!
7. Falling on the “guest grenade” and having an inane in depth conversation about whatever minutiae (like whether oaks or elms give better shade) is most important to them so that the most important person in the room can schmooze the way they need to. I’ve done this countless times in my career and the VP or President is always grateful.
8. When dealing with sticky situations, sometimes it’s just better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Do I need to explain?
9. There is no job too big or too small. I have seen her do everything from host a CEO and his family to cleaning cigarette butts out of her potted plants. This is essential for us to remember in donor relations.
10. Can you remember this one when you attend meetings about meetings? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”
11. Finally, the one I work on constantly… Patience, many things happen more slowly than we want them to, so we have to remember that sometimes, that’s ok. And sometimes it may be a blessing, like I said- work in progress for those of you who know me personally…
Without these simple essentials that my mother taught me, I would not be the donor relations professional I am. I think of how blessed I was that all along, mom was right (of course) and was preparing me for a future. So be thankful if you learned these growing up as I did. And for those of you still learning them all, we all still have something to learn.

I would love to hear your comments and feedback. Thank you so much for reading.


  1. Love this article! My fave so far.

    My story is very similar. My Mom, (Hi Betty!) drilled into my head what seemed at the time to be useless advice (1) sit up straight, don't slouch, pay attention, don't fidget in church, (2) one knows a lady by her words so mind yours, (3) your grandmother was a remarkable woman, she had little but made much and we never wanted for anything; and (4) be nice to your sister you will need to lean on her one day.

    Sure enough, today I can sit up straight and pay attention until it is absolutely necessary to fake a nosebleed, I can feel rage and keep a tight lip, I can make something out of nothing and when it is all over I can find a friend, close a door and fall apart leaving all my faults bare to be seen. Then, shoulders back, a little wiser, a little braver, face the next challenge.

    Moms, Dads, parental figures and families of choice have such an impact on our futures. Thanks for sharing Lynne!

  2. Well said. And, thank you for helping me recognize how instrumental my own mother was in shaping my career in donor relations.

  3. Thanks everyone!
    This is so meaningful to me and my mom even cried, and because my father is a gentleman, he had a hankerchief for her tears!!

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