"Extremely difficult and demanding."
That's how a friend describes his relationship with one of his top donors. He says he's in a "can't-live-with-him, can't-live-without-him" bind. He worries that if he tells the donor what's really on his mind, he'll get angry and possibly withdraw his critical support (and very visible name in the community) from the organization. He worries if he doesn't, the donor's challenging behavior will continue to escalate.
This situation isn't unique. Often, because of the way we construct relationships with our philanthropic partners, there is a power inequity at work. This toxic dynamic leaves us frustrated and feeling helpless because we fear if we make a misstep, we will be abandoned. This fear creates an obstacle to honesty and integrity in our interactions with each other.
An authentic, honest relationship doesn't require us to be very courageous in our language, but it does require us to be open to discovery. In response to his complaint, I asked my friend: what is most important to this man -- not just what you think is important, but what has he told you is most important to him? My friend was at a loss. He admitted that he'd never talked with the donor about it. He said he spends a lot of time talking about the organization, its mission and goals and how he can be a part of it, but not very much about him as a person.
What might happen if, during their next conversation, he explicitly explores this with him and he, in turn, shares what matters most to him? Perhaps their relationship -- and how they work together -- could be realigned in any entirely different way.
There is a huge gap between being attached to people and being committed to them. Attachment asks: what can you do for me? Commitment asks: what can we do together? Attachment limits possibility, while commitment opens it up. Attachment leads to confinement and dependence. Commitment leads to mutual discovery and flourishing.
One way to tell if you are attached or committed is to ask yourself, is this relationship becoming more constricted over time or ever-more open?
Attached or committed, which are you?
For more of Jennifer's work check out www.jennifermccrea.com