109: Real Relationships: The Truth About Growing Connection & The Skills To Do It with Carole Robin

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“People do business with people. They don’t do business with ideas or machines or products or strategies or money. So unless you get the people part right, you’re going to be limited in how successful you’re going to be.”

– Carole Robin
Episode #109


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

We are taking a closer look at donor relationships on this episode of What the Fundraising with my guest Carole Robin, whose class on interpersonal dynamics has been among the most popular ever at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Why? Because, whether in the nonprofit or for-profit realm, we so often get relationships wrong, or just skip over them altogether at the expense of our desired outcomes. A co-founder of Leaders in Tech and co-author of “Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues,” Carol is sharing with us the transformational power of naming our experiences and understanding those of others. If the vulnerability implied makes you nervous, then this is the resource you need in order to start getting comfortable – with curiosity, with inquiry, and with holding space for authentic connection. When we interact openly with others, expressing our feelings appropriately, we open all kinds of doors, explains Carole. 

You’ll hear about modest but invaluable tools to help break through when we feel stuck or unwilling to move out of our comfort zones. It’s all about learning how to take small steps toward transparency. “People do business with people,” says Carole. “They don’t do business with ideas or machines or products or strategies or money. So unless you get the people part right, you’re going to be limited in how successful you’re going to be.” When we define what it is to have a “strong donor relationship” are we looking at the things that truly sustain it? Are we as fundraisers willing to open ourselves up to difficult conversations and communicate honestly what we’re asking for and are able to offer? Integrity is powerful and it starts with being able to name how we feel. Fortunately, says Carole, we’ve got a chance to deepen our understanding and fluency with this language each and every time we have a human interaction: “It’s just a matter of making a commitment. So pay attention and see where the lesson is!” 


Carole Robin


  • A big shout out to our sponsor Instil, the holistic tool that reimagines nonprofit technology in ways that deepen community relationships and nonprofit processes to magnify impact. The platform’s advanced UX design and real-time analytics supercharge donors, increase volunteer engagement, and smooth donor management and operations across your entire organization.
  • If you haven’t already, please visit our new What the Fundraising community forum. Check it out and join the conversation at this link.
  • If you’re looking to raise more from the right funders, then you’ll want to check out my Power Partners Formula, a step-by-step approach to identifying the optimal partners for your organization. This free masterclass offers a great starting point

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Get to know Carole:

Carole has been helping leaders grow for over 35 years, including as the Faculty Director of the Interpersonal Dynamics for High Performance Executives Program and Director of the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). She received the MBA Distinguished Teaching Award for her work in numerous courses, such as Interpersonal Dynamics (the most popular elective course at the GSB for over 45 years). In addition to her teaching, she has coached and consulted for individuals and groups of high-profile executives for the last fifteen years. Her clients work with her to develop their interpersonal skills, update limiting mental models, and learn to modify their style.


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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.


episode transcript

00:01:49 Mallory Erickson
Welcome, everyone. I am so thrilled to be here today with Carole Robin. Carole, welcome to What The Fundraising.

00:01:56 Carole Robin
Thank you.

00:01:57 Mallory Erickson
Oh, I’m so happy to have you here. I loved learning about your work. It has so many applications to fundraising and to all the fundraisers listening to this. So will you just start by giving us a little bit of background about you and your research and what’s led you to the work you’re doing today.

00:02:14 Carole Robin
So, really quickly, I’ve had six different careers in the for profit and nonprofit world, but my longest career was as a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I wasn’t really considered a professor, I was considered a lecturer. But I taught the most popular and oversubscribed elective at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford called Interpersonal Dynamics, known affectionately by the students as Touchy feeling, emphasis on the feeling of the touchy. And that’s because the course places such a big emphasis on how to create stronger, more robust relationships using feelings as part of your vocabulary. We can get back into that in a while, but the premise of the course is that people do business with people. They don’t do business with ideas or machines or products or strategies or money. So unless you get the people part right, you’re going to be limited in how successful you’re going to be. That’s why it’s a course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Now, that said, it’s that squishy, soft stuff that lots of people are like, yeah, who cares about that? And so if you believe, I think anybody in the fundraising business, just like anybody in the sales business I spent ten years in sales and marketing, by the way. Unless they understand that if you don’t have a relationship, you are unlikely to actually do business together and you don’t know how to build those relationships, I think you’re going to have a hard time actually succeeding. Anyway, in 2017, Penguin Random House came to us and said, how come thousands of students for decades have said, this course has worked the entire price of tuition, and there’s no book? My co author and I said, because you really aren’t going to learn about this by reading about this. You’re going to learn how to create connection and robust relationships by actually engaging with other people. And they said, yeah, but not everybody has the privilege and the luck to go to Stanford Graduate School of Business. So how are you okay with that? So then we looked at each other and said, okay. So we wrote a book called Connect building exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends and Colleagues. It’s been translated into 15 different languages. It has sold over 70,000 copies, even though it hasn’t made any bestseller list, and lots of your listeners have never heard of it because it never made any bestseller list. And by the way, if any of you who are listening ever want to write a book, come talk to me for 15 minutes first to find out what it is you should know so that you set your expectations. Right? Probably for another podcast. Anyway, the bottom line is that my co author and I feel very strongly about what the publisher that talked us into writing the book said, which is, it isn’t rocket science. However, I did one of these gigs. I actually did a keynote in a workshop for the executives at NASA years ago, and I said to them, Come on, you guys, this isn’t rocket science. And they looked at me and said, Carole, this is so much harder than rocket science. So I think the reason that most people either think you can’t learn this, you can’t learn how to be better, more interpersonally effective you just are or you’re not. It comes more naturally to some people than others. But you could absolutely learn to get better, and other people think it doesn’t matter, yet more people think it’s just too hard. And frankly, it is harder when you have no idea where to start, which is another reason why we wrote the book. So the book is really like taking the course one chapter at a time. At the end of every chapter, it’s got to go deep in your learning, and here’s how to apply what you just read. And it’s not an academic book. Concepts are learned through five different pairs, like a man and a woman who worked together, a married couple, two guys that are buddies, two women that go back to college days and they’ve been friends forever, a father and a daughter. Because, by the way, I get as many emails and texts and visits from former students 1015 years out that tell me I just became a CEO. I owe it all to you. Or I just raised my first 10 million from a VC thanks to you. Pretty sure your class just saved my marriage. I want you to know that I just reconciled my relationship with my brother, who I hadn’t talked to for two years, and now I get thank you for finally writing a book so that I can give it to some of the people I live with that didn’t go to Stanford and say, Please read chapter four. So that’s a little bit about my work and me. And I think when we talked ahead of time, I noted that I had had the great privilege of helping a lot of the folks in the Stanford Development Office after our book came out. Some of them were Gsb graduates, so they’d gone through the class. But after the book came out, my co author and I did some workshops for them so that they could even more directly both share the content with all their colleagues and learn how to apply it in all their fundraising efforts.

00:06:53 Mallory Erickson
Yeah, I love that. And it’s interesting, as you were talking this time about it, it struck me that piece that you said around this is something that can’t be learned. And with fundraisers in particular, many of them do, I think, have strong natural interpersonal skills. And so they might actually think but then they experience a lot of challenges in their relationships with donors. And my guess is that segment even thinks less about necessarily growing their interpersonal skills. And so your book actually offers this really incredible look for me on how do people who are like, I need to grow this from the ground up because this doesn’t come naturally to me, but also has ways those that do have natural interpersonal skills can more intentionally strengthen those to actually have their relationships match their desires.

00:07:48 Carole Robin
Such a good point, Mallory, because so I left Stanford in 2017, started my own startup, nonprofit called Leaders in Tech, where basically it’s everything I taught at Stanford for CEO, founders in Silicon Valley, and management. But the reason I raise it in the context of what you just said is that one of the things that happens is we develop our skills and our mental models, our beliefs about what works early in our careers, and they serve us really well. So we keep using them, we keep using those skills, and we keep believing those mental models. But as contexts change, we don’t ever stop to think about whether or not we should look at whether some of those mental models are still serving us and whether those skills are now deficient, we just keep trying to but this worked. This work. Yeah. The operative term is worked does not necessarily mean it’s going to work now. And we are all works in progress, and context always change. So something that worked really well between you and me ten years ago in terms of how we were with each other and how our relationship thrived, may or may not be the same thing that works now. We are different people now. So no matter how skilled you believe you are, and interpersonal intelligence is a form of intelligence. If you know all the research on the guy who did the multiple intelligence as gardener, interpersonal intelligence is a form of intelligence. If you have that intelligence, even more reason to gain all these skills, because now you’re going to be just a ninja. So I think, like all intelligences, some of them are innate and some of them can be enhanced.

00:09:26 Mallory Erickson
So can you start us off really talking through what are the pillars of the skills that create connection?

00:09:35 Carole Robin
Yeah. So one of the things my co author and I did, and I became known as the queen of touchy feely at Stanford, but my co author, David Bradford, I really stand on his shoulders. If anything, he’s the father of touchy feely. It’s been around four decades. I am old, but not that old. So by the time I got there, it was already a thriving course. It quadrupled in size in the time that I was there. But one of the things that we did when we decided to write the book is we decided to identify, first of all, we landed on a very simple way of thinking about this, which is that relationships exist on a continuum. At one end of the continuum is contact and no connection or dysfunction. At the other end of the continuum is what we came to call exceptional, which is why the book is called Building Exceptional Relationships. But it turns out that the skills and competencies you need to move along the continuum to exceptional take you to at least robust and functional. So you may not aspire to have any more exceptional relationships than you already do. You may not aspire to have any, but shouldn’t you want to know how to at least get to robust and functional with everybody? So that’s the first sort of core concept. Now, as we thought about what are the characteristics of a relationship as it unfolds along this continuum, we came up with six characteristics. The first one is that I feel more known by you. Not completely, totally, absolutely. But I feel known in a way that feels affirming. I don’t have to hide behind a spun image. I don’t have to pretend I’m somebody I’m really not, and I can be me, and I can come back and talk more about why that’s important to how I feel about myself. Never mind the kind of connection it helps make with you. The second is I show up in a way that invites you to be more known by me. Those two are related because if I play my cards really close, you’re going to play your cards even closer, and we’re not going to know anything about each other. The third one is that we trust each other. We trust that we won’t use our disclosures against each other, and that is iterative. And the fourth is we can be honest with each other. When you’ve done something that has hurt my feelings or I have found to be problematic or has made me really annoyed or I think is really hurting our team or our cause or our family, I don’t feel like I can say that to you in a way that I don’t have to worry will harm our relationship, but in fact, in a way that I believe will make our relationship even stronger. That’s another characteristic. So you’ll see a million things about feedback books and seminars and workshops. Most feedback is not given very well a, because most people are not very skilled, and B, it goes wrong. It ruins the relationship. And then people think, oh, well, I’m not going to give you feedback because all it did was weaken our relationship. And then guess what? A mental model gets very fixed. Oh, yeah. No, I don’t raise stuff like that with that person. Well, can you allow for the possibility that there could be a way to raise it that might actually deepen your relationship and help you both? So that’s the fourth. The fifth is that you don’t run away from conflict, but you know how to have conflict productively. To expect there to be no conflict ever with somebody that you have any kind of a meaningful relationship with is completely unrealistic. So instead, learn to have productive conflict. And the last one is you’re both invested in each other’s learning and growth. And when you have all five of those, you have definitely moved down the continuum. And the depth to which you have each of those and the extent to which all of them are present determines where you are on the continuum. Wow.

00:13:24 Mallory Erickson
Okay. There are so many pieces in there that I want to explore from a fundraising perspective. But maybe before we forget, can we loop back to that 15% rule? Because that’s in relation to trust, which increasing donor trust is such a hot topic in our sector. So let’s talk about that for a minute.

00:13:42 Carole Robin
And the 15% rule applies to all of this, by the way. So any of your listeners who know a lot about educational research will recognize the concept comes from educational research. So we all have our comfort zone, what we do and say that we don’t think twice about. Think of three concentric circles that’s the one in the middle, the one on the outside is your danger zone in a million years, you would never say that to that person. But there’s a circle in the middle between those two called the learning zone. Until we step outside our comfort zone, we don’t learn anything new. But unless we stay inside our danger zone, we also don’t learn anything new because we just freeze, and that’s the end of it. When I used to introduce this to my students, I used to say, but, Carole, the minute I’m outside my comfort zone, how do I know I’m not in my danger zone? How do I know I’ve only just gone into my learning zone? So we came up with something called the 15% rule. Try stepping a little bit outside your comfort zone. 15%. You’ll know, you’ll feel it. You’ll feel it in your body. You’ll think, I’m a little uncomfortable, but you won’t be like, oh, my God, I’m, like, freaked out. And an interesting thing happens when you step 15% outside your comfort zone, which is that after a while, if the other person responds positively and they step 15% outside theirs, you now have a larger comfort zone with that person. Then you can step 15% out beyond that. And that’s how we grow relationships. That’s how we deepen relationships 15% of time, both in terms of disclosure and in terms of feedback.

00:15:18 Mallory Erickson
Wow. I almost want to kind of workshop an idea with you. I’m trying to think about the best way to sort of show this in action. Every single point that you shared on there. In a fundraising context, it’s just so clear why we’re struggling to build trust, why we’re struggling to build long term relationships. We get into this real tunnel vision and fundraising where we’re so hyper focused on our goal or our need, and we’re so in ego protection mode that we don’t let ourselves be known. We don’t create space for the funder to really be known beyond the money. We don’t trust the funder to be able to handle a reality that hasn’t been perfectly curated for them, and so they can tell that the reality is being perfectly curated for them. And that doesn’t make them, guess what?

00:16:17 Carole Robin
That only erodes more trust.

00:16:19 Mallory Erickson

Exactly. So we have all these processes and fundraising. We talk a lot about donor trust, but then the way in which we build relationships is really counter to that trust being built. And I know that for fundraisers, I love that you shared that piece around the 15% rule because it’s so uncommon for fundraisers to give feedback or to open up a dialogue around, oh, I want to give you $10,000 for this truck. The nonprofit doesn’t need a truck, but they are so excited that that funder wants to give them $10,000. If they’re like, we’ll pay a truck. We’ll figure out, instead of just saying, can we talk about what you believe to be the impact of the truck? And kind of open up that conversation right so can you talk to me about what it takes? What’s that tiny opening of a mental model for someone to even recognize, perhaps for the first time, that they aren’t in deep connection and that there’s an opportunity for so much more?

00:17:24 Carole Robin

Well, a couple of things. So on our book website, Connect and Relate, there’s a bunch of free downloadable stuff, even if you don’t want to buy the book, which, by the way, it’s not like super expensive. There’s a free downloadable assessment. You can take this assessment, which has all these skills and competencies, and you can read yourself how good do you think you are at each of them, then give it to a few people who know you really well, have them fill it out for you, and then compare how you see yourself with how they see you. And then ask yourself if you have something to learn. That’s one way. But I want to come back to something that you said about the how you build relationships with a donor. That struck me as you were talking, and that’s very fundamental to deepening relationships, which is the concept of learning how to meet other people emotionally. So we can meet each other here, idea to idea, thought to thought, task to task, or we can meet each other here. And one of the things I always loved about working in nonprofits is that we had a mission. We had something that was really deeply meaningful, that we were trying to make happen. We weren’t just trying to make money or sell widgets. And to the extent that we could connect with our donors around that, we were more successful. So if somebody has offered you $10,000 for a truck, by the way, this is even beyond that. But one thing to always do is to get curious. And there’s a whole chapter in the book on the importance of inquiry and curiosity, which, by the way, is impossible if you don’t suspend judgment. If you’ve already decided you know, why the other person is doing whatever they’re doing, you’re not going to be curious. You’re just going to look for confirming evidence that you’re right. Especially when somebody does something you don’t like, something you wish they hadn’t done or you’re trying to connect, try getting very genuinely curious about what matters to them. So I want to give you a truck. First of all, incredibly nice of you to want to support us. Before we get into anything that specific, I wonder if we could just talk a little bit about what you’re hoping to do for us. And I wonder if it would be helpful to you if I shared a little bit more about some of our biggest needs and then we can get into what’s the best way for you to help us. But I sort of feel like we’re jumping the gun. But it does come back, and you were right to a mental model that if I believe I do anything other than say, oh, wow, thank you, that’s so lovely of you that I’m not going to do anything other than take it. And I really have not been fair to that donor either, have I or my organization. Because, let’s say I say rather than get into the specifics of even how much money, let me tell you what some of our biggest needs are hurdles, challenges. I wonder if any of those sound like something you’d want to help. Either be a thought partner on how to fix or a thought partner. And financial aid. People love to be asked for help. We tend to be very reluctant to ask people for help because we hold all kinds of mental models. If I ask you for help, you’re going to think I’m weak and I can’t do it myself. If I ask you for help, you’re going to take advantage of me. If I ask you for help and you give it to me, then I’m going to owe you. Test some of your mental models and by the way, don’t test them with the most difficult relationship in your life. Test them with somebody where you’re trying to deepen the relationship a little bit, but it’s not the most impossible person or the person you feel the most distant to in your life. Don’t start there. Don’t set yourself up. But now let’s come back to the more specific fundraising scenarios. I’ve done a couple of podcasts and I did one talk, I think, for I’m remembering that these were financial consultants, that was a firm and of course, they’re consulting to high net worth individuals on what they should do with their money. And some of what they were saying was like, they don’t want to know anything about me. It’s a mental model. You sure? I don’t know if I was going to let you manage my money, I’d want to know a little bit more about you. Or they would say, yeah, but that’s not the point. They’re not interested in me. Well, they’re doing business with you. How can they not be interested in you if they’re going to do business with you? Well, I can’t admit I’ve ever made a mistake. I’m like, well, I don’t know that I do business with anybody who doesn’t admit they’ve ever made a mistake because they’re lying. I much prefer to do business with somebody who tells me about what they learned from a mistake they made.

00:21:59 Mallory Erickson
I was just going to share. I had a thunder once who said, I want to hear about some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve made. And I remember freezing up a little bit in my body. And so he said, I want to know that I’m investing in an organization that has tried things, failed, learned hard lessons. I don’t want to pay for the first big crash. Just to your point, that has been so true in my fundraising in the.

00:22:25 Carole Robin
Old days, really old days. Now, when VC was first getting started, one of the standard operating procedures was that they would not fund anybody who had not failed because they wanted to know how somebody handled failure before they gave them any money. Those days are long gone, but it was an interesting time. So if we come back to learning how to meet somebody emotionally, that means it’s more than just empathy. It’s a much deeper kind of empathy because most people think empathy is, oh, I’ve been there, I’ve been in your shoes, I know what that feels like. Maybe I’ve never been in your shoes, but it doesn’t mean I can’t meet you emotionally. Because if you’re scared, I’ve been scared. I know that feeling. I may not have been scared of that or if I wasn’t that I wouldn’t be scared of it. But I know the scared feeling. So if I could connect to your scared feeling, then you’re going to feel met. Okay.

00:23:27 Mallory Erickson
Wow, that is such good advice. And when you were talking, it made me think about this other concept. We hear a lot in the nonprofit sector around don’t be transactional. And I think we have equated that to mean don’t talk about money. And so we have these long relationship building phases where we are not talking about money, but the underpinning of the entire relationship is potentially money or money that has happened. Right. And so for me, the fear around talking about money that so many fundraisers hold. One, I think harms relationships in a number of different ways that we’ve already talked about. But I’m also curious in terms of the mental model piece or how you would think about this, if people are really stuck on a topic being off limits from a relationship building perspective, what are ways that we can sort of shift that understanding?

00:24:24 Carole Robin
So I tend to err on the side of transparency and when in doubt, two things, maybe three. One is tell the truth and the second is be appropriately authentic. Appropriately authentic does not mean that tell you everything, actually. You’ve got to be thoughtful, mindful of what you’re going to share in service of that person, you, your relationship and the work you’re trying to do together, right. In service of all those things. That’s where the appropriate comes in. And 15%, so if you combine all of those and I think a topic is off limits. One of the things I can do, the vocabulary feelings, it’s an appendix in the book. It was a handout in the syllabus because how sad is it that we have to come up with a vocabulary feelings because we have been so socialized to leave feelings out of it. But how do you connect with another human being without any feelings? So I would start with it feels kind of awkward to me that we’ve never even talked about what we’re both hoping happens as a result of our meetings. I happen to believe that it’s really important that we really get to know each other first, and I just want to name that. It’s sort of weird that we’ve never even mentioned that. If that’s how I feel, or I can say I feel nervous about asking you about your kids. I find myself wanting to share a little bit about my kids, and I don’t know if that’s okay because you’ve never mentioned anything about yours. No matter what the topic is, start with how you’re feeling about it, about raising it and what you’re hoping will happen as a result of seeing it. By the way, those are the same fundamental heuristics for giving good feedback in addition to being behaviorally specific, which everybody has always learned. But that’s not enough. I’ve sent you four emails, and you never responded to any of them. I finally texted you telling you I’d sent you those emails, and I got a two word response, and I don’t know what to make of it. But it makes me feel nervous because I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s something about what I’m asking for, if it’s got something to do with what’s going on for you. I don’t want to make up any stories, so could we just have a very quick conversation on what’s going on? And I’m telling you this because I find myself increasingly annoyed or increasingly discouraged. Go find your vocabulary of feelings. And I just think it’s in service of our relationship that you know that I’m feeling that way now. If you don’t give a crap about me, it doesn’t matter. But most people who are in any kind of relationship do care to know that the impact of what they’re doing, which they are often blind to, is potentially harming a relationship.

00:27:24 Mallory Erickson
Wow, there’s so much wisdom in there for fundraisers. I mean, I’m just sitting here thinking, I wish I heard this 15 years ago. And there are things that it’s interesting hearing you share these frameworks around these concepts, some of which I feel like I stumbled into accidentally. The curiosity piece. Executive coaching taught me a lot about curiosity, which was so helpful and genuine curiosity. We have these lists that were sent to these donor meetings with the list of questions, and I get it that it can help calm us down and help us feel more prepared to go into meetings if you’ve never had a major donor meeting before with some potential questions. But what often happens is we stop listening. We’re so nervous. We’re not genuinely curious. We don’t want to go off script because this is the list of questions that this expert told me to ask, and we miss the whole story. And I feel like in every meaningful, thunder relationship, it’s interesting. I found out about your work through an amazing friend of mine, Karen Mulvaney, who started out as a major donor for the organization that I ran for years. And she came to my wedding. She’s like a super close friend of mine. And sometimes when people heard that, that we had become really close friends and that she had been at my wedding, they were like, oh. And I was like, yeah, because I got to sit and talk about our deepest desires for the world. And we went through hard things together and we had a really hard thing happen in the middle of one of our meetings that wasn’t related to the meeting, but we were in it together. And the other thing was, there was so much transparency and trust built because at the very beginning of our relationship, she had actually taken funding off the table. She had said, I want to be super transparent with you. I’m happy to meet with you about X, Y and Z, but this is not in my funding priorities. And then when I felt like maybe things had shifted for her, I think I did exactly she’s going to have to hold my feet to fire on this one, but I think I did exactly what you said was that I said, like, I have this sensation and I’m not sure if it’s right. I’m not sure if I’m reading this right and I’m feeling uncomfortable bringing this up because you were very clear at the beginning around what this was not. I’m not sure if I’m misreading something and have things changed? And I’m listening to this stuff, like, oh, my God. And so I think for people to understand this is just so tremendous.

00:29:56 Carole Robin
I’m really big on metaphors because sometimes images really help me. One way to think about it is you’re either on a path in the woods or you’re in a boat on a canal, and inquiry is just you’re going down and you’re noticing and then you’re getting curious. And rather than just plowing ahead, you maybe go off to the side and you look at that plant that you thought you knew what it was, but you never really looked at it that carefully and that turns out to be a different plant. And now you notice another little branch off the path. And you know what the root of the word inquiry is? Quest. You don’t know what you’re going to find when you set out on a quest. It’s magical. And when we approach another person, no matter how well we know them, in a state of inquiry, man, it is magical.

00:30:52 Mallory Erickson
Do you have any suggestions for folks who might be listening to this and thinking they’re in an environment perhaps in their office or in their organization where this type of safe connection isn’t available to them? That the person. They interact with most in their office is not sort of open to this. But then they are expected to turn around and be open to connection with a donor meeting. Right. So they go from this very disconnected state. Do you have suggestions for how people transition between relationships that have different levels of connection or what folks could do maybe to sort of set themselves up for success before they go into an environment where they’re really looking deeply connected.

00:31:36 Carole Robin
Well, first of all, I’m really glad you raised that, because it’s unfortunate that and by the way, that’s not just in nonprofits. I mean, it’s in all organizations where people work for managers who certainly don’t role model, but what’s worse, who close off learning and growth in this direction. I have seen that change, actually, in the last ten to 15 years. More and more people in business, especially and in big business, are open to the possibility that the people part matters. They don’t always put their money where their mouth is, but at least they don’t discard it out of hand anymore. They used to be like SBS. But back to your question. First of all, also on the website is a downloadable start your own learning group. Grab three or four friends. The only investment you have to make is each of you buys a book. And then it’s a step by step create your own learning group, your own support group. Go through it together, and then you’ve always got learning partners so that if you’re not getting it from your boss or somebody at work, you’ve got somebody that is kind of in it with you. And now you also get to share stories. Here’s what I tried, here’s what worked, here’s what didn’t work. What would you have done in this case? If there’s three or four of you, it’s really cool because then you’ve got different perspectives and different ideas on how you might have handled it. So that’s one thing to do. Another kind of similar thing to do is find yourself a learning buddy, even if it’s not your boss within your organization. Maybe a fellow fundraiser who’s yearning equally for more support and more help in preparing for the jarring difference between being here and being out there. I think the other thing is the advantages to having a learning buddy or a learning group is that you can role play stuff. Like you had said earlier, you almost want to role play something. Like you be the donor and I’ll be you, or you be the difficult person that I’m trying to interact with, and I’ll be you, and you tell me what you’re trying to communicate, and then I do that. In a lot of my workshops around Feedback, where somebody’s got somebody in mind they’d like to give feedback to, but they just don’t know how to do it in a way that they think will be productive.

00:33:54 Mallory Erickson
Are there any things that you recommend folks say kind of one liners when maybe something happens in a meeting where they don’t want to disconnect. They sort of know that whatever was said was hard to hear, but they don’t want to rupture the relationship in any way, but they feel like they need some time to process it before they can actually get curious about the next piece of where they’re going. I’m imagining in a fundraiser meeting, for example, let’s say they had sort of opened up that car conversation, the one that we talked about, and the donor had come back and said, here’s the thing. I’ve done this a lot with organizations like yours, and I always do a car. They’re sort of like, okay, but they don’t just want to accept the car, but they want some time to think about what the next step is. Are there some things you encourage folks to say or ways people can sort of stay in connection without moving to commitment?

00:34:55 Carole Robin
We’re back to transparency. That’s hard for me to hear, and I want a little time to just think about it a little bit. Or I could even say that’s kind of disappointing. And I’m still really committed to making sure that we find something that works for both of us. And I think I need a little time to think about it again. If you just go silent. My name is Carolee. My husband calls me Carole. But a Carolery principle is, in the absence of data, people make stuff up. So if you don’t want them to make stuff up, don’t be silent. I might even start with, I really care about this a lot, and I’m feeling a little bit at a loss, and I don’t want to just accept it because that would be the easy thing to do. And I don’t think that’s fair to you or the organization without us really completely exploring what this is really about for you and what our needs really are.

00:35:53 Mallory Erickson
Yeah, it’s so interesting, just the mental models that we have around what’s transactional, what’s not, what’s okay to talk about related to money, what’s not right, because I can imagine that there’s a certain gut reaction that says, well, if that’s what the donor wants to do, then don’t be transactional and accept their gift. Whereas the reality of accepting that gift, if it’s not in service of the mission, if it’s not really valuable to both people.

00:36:21 Carole Robin
That’s the part that worries me the most. It’s like, it’s not fair to the donor.

00:36:25 Mallory Erickson

Yeah. That, to me, is a transactional. To just accept something for the purpose of completing the transaction, of saying, this is the easy thing to do, to have this be done well.

00:36:36 Carole Robin
And you can even say that, look, the easiest thing for me to do would be to just say, thank you so much and take the money and buy the truck. And it’s not fair to you for me not to share with you that I have no idea what we would do with the truck. I don’t see a need for it right now, but I’ll certainly go back and find out if that’s absolutely the only thing you’re interested in. I just think people are too quick. Here’s something we haven’t talked about at all and that’s power differentials. Power differentials are very challenging and make interpersonal dynamics very messy. Because if I’m afraid because you are a higher power person than I am, there’s a whole bunch of stuff I’m not going to say to you. And by the way, that’s those managers who have people working for them, who feel abandoned or disenfranchised or have doubled the challenge to go do the job they’ve got to do because the manager isn’t even showing up for them in the way that they need. Would be useful if they had some understanding of that. Because as a higher power position person, it’s much harder for the lower power position person to be vulnerable. They’re already vulnerable so now they’re not going to be even more vulnerable. And sometimes we gain power and influence by speaking our truth, by not backing down, by having integrity. If I’m dealing with somebody who doesn’t see my having integrity as being important, especially if I’m trying to get money from them, then I don’t know that we should be doing business.

00:38:09 Mallory Erickson
And super.

00:38:10 Carole Robin

Easier said than done. Let me name that.

00:38:17 Mallory Erickson
It is. But this is where I think that 15% rule has so much value because for an organization who’s hearing this and is like, well, this would mean that this could change my relationships with every single funder. I think that’s where you lean on that 15% rule. That’s where you say don’t start with your most complicated relationship.

00:38:38 Carole Robin
Totally. By the way, 15% with this donor is going to look different than 15% with that donor. And just because it worked here doesn’t mean it’s going to work there. Absolutely. And by the way, if you have an organization of people and they start sharing some of what they did and tried, then you create a learning organization and everybody’s learning from each other.

00:39:00  Mallory Erickson
Yeah. I’m so grateful for everything that you shared here. I feel like we as a sector really need to rethink what strong donor relationship means because I think we have been using that terminology to just indicate how frequently or how much a donor gives to our organization and that is not actually a measure of a strong relationship. And so I really appreciate the framework that you’ve provided here to help folks think differently about this.

00:39:31 Carole Robin
Good. There’s tons more. Tons more.

00:39:34 Mallory Erickson
Yeah, I know. We’re at the tip of the iceberg. I really scrape the surface. Well, I hope it gives just enough for people to go and buy the book and learn more. I love the assessment that’s online. I’ll make sure all of those links are below as well. Is there anything you’d like to leave folks with today?

00:39:54 Carole Robin

Yeah, here’s something really simple to say and hard to remember. Every interaction with another human being is an opportunity to learn, to learn something about yourself, to learn something about them, and to learn something about relationships every single interaction. So it’s not out there to be had. It’s just a matter of making a commitment to pay attention and see where the lesson is every time. And by the way, the harder the transaction is, the more learning there’s likely to be.

00:40:32 Mallory Erickson
Thank you. Thank you so much for this time, for all of your wisdom. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you for having me on. All right.


00:40:46 Mallory Erickson
There is so much inside this episode. This was really hard to do, but here are some of my top takeaways. Number one we developed skills and mental models early on that do not always serve us as the context in which we work and live changes. We need to bring some awareness to them and have tools to challenge them. Number two growing relationships is an all or nothing. If we each step out of our comfort zone just 15% beyond, we’ll multiply exponentially our opportunities to relate in that learning zone. Number three true connection transcends what we typically think of as empathy to reach and be with people in their experience. Number four being appropriately authentic means being mindful and not oversharing while still bringing vulnerability and truth to the exchange. Number five good feedback looks a lot like holding a meaningful conversation. It’s about offering feelings as a bridge to discussing goals, actions, and setbacks. I thought this was so helpful to think about in terms of donor conversations and feedback, too. And number six, I love the Corollian principle. In the absence of data, people make stuff up. So if you don’t want that to happen, don’t stay silent. Okay? For additional takeaways and tips inside this episode, head on over to Mallory Erickson Coachingerickson. Compodcast to grab the full show notes and resources now. You’ll also find more information there about Carole and our amazing sponsors, Instill. Thank you for spending this time with us today. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you would give it a rating and review and share it with a friend. I’m so grateful for all of my listeners and the good, hard work you’re doing to make our world a better place. And if you miss me between episodes, stop by and say hello on Instagram @Whatthefundraising_. Have a great day, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the next episode in this incredible miniseries.

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