Oh, Be Careful Little Mouth What you Say

I heard an amazing story today that illustrates the importance of relationship, choosing the right words, and the danger of misplaced humor when it comes to donor relations.

A generous friend has been a donor to an academic institution for years. The school President made a swing through town and met with a group of donors, primarily alumni. As they were making introductions, my friend was asked, “Are you an alumnus?” When he answered no, the President joked, “Oh, so you are here for the free food.”

That one bad joke did not seal the ill-will deal—being ignored at the dinner did that.

As one who thinks of himself as funny and quick witted, this story sends chills down my spine. I absolutely can see myself saying this exact same thing.

Here are the questions I wonder about?

  • How did this person become President? (Okay, that is harsh, but honestly. A President of an academic institution should know you never joke about money with a potential donor.)
  • Why did the President not know who this long-time, non-alumnus donor, was?
  • Why didn’t the director of development inform the President who might be in attendance that evening?
  • Did the President follow up with those who came to the dinner?
  • Has the school even noticed my friend has quit giving?

Here is another thing the President doesn’t know. His school is in my friend’s will.

For now.

It is hard enough to raise money. Losing a long-time donor because you were ill-prepared and too cute for your own good is simply inexcusable.

Will the school realize its mistake and make amends? We will see.