This is a great guest post from my friend and colleague JoAnn Peroutka of the company, Educe.
As communications professionals, the absolute worst thing someone can say to us is “You’re not listening to me.” It cuts us to the quick – we who, each and every day, succeed in getting into the heads and hearts of our donors. And because we know how to do it well, when we are on the donor side of the equation our antennae are up as we acknowledge how we are being treated. Of course it’s something of a double-edged sword because many of us are giving below the levels that would attract our own attention if Professional We received our check. And so I offer the following letter as an example, a parable and perhaps a little bit of a rant in the hope that it can be a learning moment for us all. Thanks for listening.
Dear Non-Profit to Remain Nameless:
I am breaking up with you. This may feel sudden to you but it’s actually something that has been brewing for about six months now. If you had been listening to me along the way you wouldn’t be surprised. If you had been listening, we might still be together.
This has not been an easy decision. I still very much admire what you stand for and want to acknowledge the important role you’ve played in my life. As a know-nothing college freshman, you pulled me back from a steep and slippery slope. In my 20s and 30s you helped me see that I did, in fact, have something meaningful and important to say to a bunch of old white men and that I could make a difference. Our relationship had mellowed by the time I reached my 40s but I still considered you a constant, an important voice that had access to people and places I didn’t. I even believed that our annual exchange of holiday greetings (mine always included a check) was meaningful and mutually beneficial.
Then you began to get a little abusive (if there is such a thing) and just as bad, dismissive. Overnight, you seemed to forget that my husband and I have different last names and began to send mail to the house addressed separately to each of us – as well as to my sister-in-law who lives in Scandinavia and oddly enough, my bank – although I suppose it is possible that someone could have the first name of “Wells.” For lots of reasons, receiving 4 pieces of unwanted mail at least once a month rankled me. I’ve spent half a year trying to correct the situation but to no avail.
At least the phone calls at 8:15am and 9:27pm have stopped. Maybe that’s because I was able to speak to an actual person…or it could be because there is a recording of me asking to be taken off the call list so legally my request could not be denied. Regardless, I am thankful to have been heard.
In spite of that small victory, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that this relationship is no longer working for me. So I’m calling it quits. In the future I’ll see your ads and billboards and read your press, and be happy that you continue to be successful. You, on the other hand, won’t have any idea who the heck I am. C’est la vie. Such are the realities of a small-time donor. Now if only I could find a way to get your attention, maybe we both could finally move on.