When you have to say “I’m sorry” to donors, volunteers or anyone
Let me start by being transparent. The idea for this post grew out of the fact that I haven’t posted a new blog for a few weeks.
I recognize there are many readers and subscribers to this blog who enjoy reading my musings. I know this because of how many people tell me they keep an eye on this space and thank me for putting time into sharing my experiences, thoughts and best practices. You’ve shared this with me at conferences, while visiting my exhibitor booth, during conference calls and site visits, and even in kind emails and handwritten notes. Please know that I appreciate your gratitude. It is what has kept this little blog going for more than five years. Really!
So, when my work and travel schedule get a little hairy and I let my blogging slip, I feel a little guilty and know the right thing to do is apologize. So . . .
“I’m sorry for becoming undisciplined and distracted when it comes to keeping up with writing for the DonorDreams audience. This was wrong because I made a commitment to keeping this site current with content, and over-promising and under-delivering is never acceptable. In the future, I will do a better job of juggling my commitments or finding guest bloggers to fill-in for me. Will you forgive me?“
The truth is that none of us are perfect, and all of us have had to apologize for things throughout the years. However, I believe non-profit professionals are more carefully scrutinized because we work with other people’s money.
In my experience, I think I did more apologizing than any other time in my life when I was an executive director working on the front line. Sometimes, those apologies were because I goofed up in major ways. (Let’s face it. We’ve all been there. Right?) And other times, the mistakes were small but magnified by circumstances, egos and the simple fact the buck stops with you.
So, if you’re going to pursue a career in non-profit work, I suggest you learn how to apologize in a heartfelt and sincere manner.
Since I’ve had to do so much apologizing in my 20-year non-profit career, I think I might have some credibility on this subject and thought I’d share a few tips that have worked for me.
Channel Brenda Lee
In the 1960s, Brenda Lee recorded the song “I’m Sorry” and it climbed the record charts. If you can’t recall her catchy lyrics, then click on the YouTube graphic below to jog your memory.
I’ve always found it helpful to dig this song out of my long term memory and start humming it while I contemplate what I’m really truly sorry for. I don’t know why it helps. It just does. Maybe it puts me in a humble and reflective mood.
Tell them why you’re sorry
I believe it is important for volunteers and donors (and anyone else you’ve wronged) to hear you say the words “I’m sorry” followed by exactly what you are sorry for.
In my experience, apologies are more likely accepted when the person you’re apologizing to can see/hear that you understand why you are apologizing. Failing to do this has oftentimes escalated the conflict because the person I was apologizing to thought I was just trying to move past the situation.
In recent year’s, I’ve even found there is another step beyond apologizing and naming the offense. If you are able to demonstrate why the offense was something needing an apology, then you are well on your way to having your apology accepted.
And after all, isn’t that really what this is all about?
Avoid the pitfall of explanation
Ugh! This is hard for me, and I fail at it more often than I succeed. (I just did it again the other day and wanted to kick myself)
There are always reasons for what went wrong. However, listing off those reasons sounds like excuse making, which is akin to throwing gasoline on a burning fire.
One thing that helps me avoid this is simply jotting down the four or five things I want to say on a piece of paper. I’m not talking about writing a speech. Just a few short bullet points to help keep me focused. It works great if you’re apologizing on a phone call. When doing so in-person, it can look and feel awkward, but you can work through that by telling the person that you made a few notes because you didn’t want to goof up what needed to be said.
Make the ask
If you are a good non-profit professional, you know there is nothing worse than the “non-ask ask.” What I mean by this is when you make your case and then imply you’d like the donor or volunteer to do something. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve seen a rookie fundraising volunteer or professional forget to ask for the money, I’d be a wealthy man.
Well, the same is true when it comes to apologies.
Verbalize what you want from the person to whom you’re apologizing . Simply ask “Will you please forgive me?” or “Is this something we can get past?”
You better get used to this
Let’s face me. Leadership is hard and good leaders make tough decisions. On top of all this, everyone makes mistakes. And even if it isn’t a mistake, edgy difficult decisions can result in hurt feelings and bruised egos.
It comes with the territory. And so does learning how to becoming an expert apologizer.
Do you have additional tips to share from your experiences? If so, please do so in the comment box located below. We can all learn from each other!
My promise to DonorDreams readers
The next few months are going to be very busy for me. While posting two and three times a week might not be possible, I will make it a priority to get something new up every week (probably on Wednesdays). And in weeks when I can do two and three posts, I will definitely do that. I promise! I hope you can forgive me.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC