The Missing Voice

Kathleen Diemer

Associate Vice President, Advancement Relations

George Mason University 

Gather with any group of donor relations professionals and talk will eventually turn to best practices. How do we create the perfect reports, recognition pieces and events?  What innovative programs or activities will surprise and delight our donors?

Our profession exists to ensure donors stay engaged with our organizations, so these conversations are natural and comfortable for us. But after more than two decades in the field of donor relations, including several years on the ADRP board, I can count on less than one hand the number of times I have participated in open discussions about the less pleasant and emotionally taxing aspects of our work.  

Yes, we have conversations about our teams being understaffed and inadequately funded. And there will always be stories exchanged about organizational challenges and pitfalls.But what about the deeper topics that we don’t examine?

We have the privilege of working with amazing donors who inspire others and change lives.Though our profession affords us a wonderful opportunity to see the best of humanity, we also sometimes see the worst of it. Raise your hand if you have ever endured a prolonged conversation with a belligerent donor or had to craft a meaningful response to someone who sent your organization vile or irrational communications. While donors are sometimes justified in their disappointment with our organizations, being the direct recipient of their anger can leave us drained and demoralized.To respond to these missives, we must attempt to first understand the hostility and hate. Too often, it sticks with us far beyond the immediate moment. 

Other situations also remain in our hearts and minds. No matter our sector, we often encounter death. It can be difficult to forget the stories of individuals who passed in tragic ways, too young, or after long and extraordinary lives. Whatever the circumstances, helping a family or our organizations honor the legacy of someone who has passed can be a hefty responsibility.


A few years ago, the MeToo movement helped highlight the harassment often experienced by fundraisers. As I read story after story, I realized there was an important voice missing–the donor relations professional. Where were the stories of our donor relations colleagues who have been subject to inappropriate comments, suggestions, or worse yet, physical contact from a donor, alumnus or event guest? We all know these incidents happen, but we seldom talk about them. 

Our jobs often require us to deal with highly emotional situations, and on rare occasions, put us in physical harm. It is often easy for us to brush off these topics. As we look to the future of our profession, we need to start having more conversations about the aspects of our work that don’t spark joy and what we can do to address them. While we search for endless ways to make others happy, we need to remember that our own well-being and that of our teams should be a main component of our daily work.


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