I was consulting with an organization recently that asked me to address how to respond to donors when asksed “so what do you do exactly?”

You’re a professional fundraiser.  Maybe your job title is development officer or director of the annual fund or even executive director.  But in the end you are a professional fundraiser.  So you make the call, you set up the meeting, and now you are sitting in your donor’s living room.  The question comes: What’s your job?  What does a development officer do?

There are a few answers to this question.

For more savvy donors I like to be very direct.  “Well, Mr. Smith — when it comes down to it, our mission at LI is really about changing lives.  It’s a big job and one that requires a lot of money.  My primary responsibility is working with our donors like you to make sure we’re communicating where we’re going and how you can help us get there.”

With that answer I didn’t just give myself all these important sounding responsibilities that nobody back at the office would associate with me.

For the less savvy donor I put it a little more softly.  “When it comes down to it, our mission at LI is really about securing a better future for the next generation.  That takes a lot of people.  People giving both their time and their money.  My job is to work with our donors in this region to make sure you know what we’re doing and how you can help us.  I’m also hear to listen to you–we wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of people like you.”

It’s basically the same answer, just put a little more subtly.

Be honest about your responsibilities.  Talk about what you do — the phone calls you make, the correspondence that you have.

Most importantly, talk about how you’ve been successful in working with other donors to your organization.  People like working with successful people.  Talk about the donor you’re working with who gave a big gift.  Talk about how you helped another donor sort through the list of organizations they support.  That’s what you do.

When the donor says something like, “So you’re heading home tomorrow.  What do you have going on back at the office?” don’t say, “Oh, well, meetings, and blah, blah, blah….”  Say, “actually, one of the donors I met with this week while I was here in Houston is considering a quite substantial gift.  She asked me to put a few things together for her to review before she makes her final decision.  So that’s the very first thing on my list when I get back.”

It’s best for the donor to know your role.  Don’t sugar coat it.  Don’t be embarrassed by it.  Be proud of what you do!