7 Magical Words to Earn Respect, Trust, and Appreciation

I want to give you seven wonderful words that can help you earn the respect, trust, and appreciation of your prospects and donors.

Before I give you the magical phrase, I want you to know that I recognize that this post is about something that is common sense. However, given a couple of my wife’s recent encounters, I can tell you that just because the miraculous phrase is common sense does not mean it’s usage is common practice.

That’s why I’m going to share it with you here:

I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

Many nonprofit professionals think they need to know the answer to every question a prospect or donor asks. They think if they do not readily know the answer, they’ll appear stupid, ignorant, incompetent, or all of these or worse. So, they make any number of mistakes when they’re stumped, including:

1. They side step the inquiry. In a classic deflection move, some development professionals will simply acknowledge the question and then change the subject. Inside, they think, “Whew! I dodged that one.” Unfortunately, the reality is that the person who made the inquiry will almost definitely notice the dodge and be annoyed by it.

Albert Einstein by Philippe Halsman-19472. They start sputtering. In this case, the development professional starts struggling to answer the question but only ends up half answering a bunch of questions that were never asked. While the person who asked the question might find this somewhat amusing, he’ll still notice the original question has gone unanswered.

3. They will make up an answer. Some development professionals will, on occasion, make up an answer. They’ll do this because they think the answer is probably right and that there will be no harm if they’re mistaken. Sometimes, a development professional will outright lie in order to avoid being seen as lacking in information. Unfortunately, in this electronic age, there’s a good chance that the person who gets cute with the facts will end up being caught.

Instead of letting yourself be caught in your own uncomfortable trap, just use the amazingly simple, powerful phrase:

I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

When you use that phrase, you’ll be telling your prospect or donor:

• I heard you.

• I don’t know everything, but I’ll be honest with you and tell you that.

• Your question or concern is mine.

• I care enough about you to get you the information you need or want.

• I know how to efficiently and effectively solve problems.

• You can trust all my other answers because when I don’t know, I’ll say so.

Using the phrase will also give you the perfect justification for being back in contact with the individual. Because you’ll be addressing something of importance to the person, your contact will be sure to be donor centered.

If you tell someone you’ll find out something and get back to her, just make certain you actually do. If you ultimately can’t find a satisfactory answer to a question, be sure to get back to the prospect or donor anyway. You can still let her know how hard you worked to get an answer, and you can apologize for coming up empty handed.

If you use the phrase effectively, you’ll charm your prospects and donors, you’ll earn their respect and trust, and you’ll receive their appreciation.

If acknowledging the limits of your own knowledge still leaves you feeling a bit uncomfortable, just remember what Albert Einstein, one of the greatest geniuses of all time, once said:

I never commit to memory anything that can easily be looked up in a book.”

Or, find inspiration in the more ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu:

The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.”

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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14 Responses to “7 Magical Words to Earn Respect, Trust, and Appreciation”

  1. I often find its the common sense things we need to be reminded of the most! This is a great post Michael, will share, thanks

  2. Michael,
    Back in the days when I worked in customer service, I learned this very same lesson, and as you know very well from previous conversations, much of what we do in fundraising involves quality customer service. When you make something up to give an immediate answer, whether to a customer or a donor, it usually comes back to bite you in the butt, and you lose the trust of your donor or customer. Great post, as usual, my friend.

    • Richard, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate your insights. For someone reason, many nonprofit professionals don’t see the similarities between the business-customer relationship and the nonprofit-donor relationship. Both for-profits and nonprofits can learn a great deal from one another.

  3. I agree. It is a powerful bonding experience with the donor to reply with the results of what you learned from researching his/her inquiry. It can be even more powerful to come up empty-handed from your research and pursue the issue together.

  4. “Using the phrase will also give you the perfect justification for being back in contact with the individual.” For this reason alone it can often keep a door from closing on you and your cause when a full answer would have put you back to square one.

  5. Love this post – thanks, Michael. The last quote resonates with me most strongly – the minute someone admits they don’t know something, my confidence in them goes through the roof!

  6. I remember being told exactly the same thing when learning to be a diving instructor. Students don’t actually expect you to know all the answers and will respect you more for admitting you don’t and going and finding out for them, than trying to make something up. Once you’ve done it in real life, it can be a surprisingly liberating experience!

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