Presence, impact and networking

: Yvette Giles

Yvette Gyles, Assistant Director for =mc, blogs on how personal presence and impact can help you to deal with a particularly sensitive issue faced by some fundraising professionals

At our talk on presence, Simon Scriver and I will be looking at ways to ensure you get the right personal impact in a range of situations. We know that this isn’t always easy. For example, at a recent training course I heard a participant talking about the difficulties she’d had with Kevin – and indeed Roger, Sam and Helen too. The problem was that whenever she had a meeting with one of her very important corporate donors, they would overstep the mark. Now this wasn’t in any sinister way – but these people were telling her their life stories, the problems they had at home and even how their marriages were breaking down. The meetings were turning into a series of counselling sessions – and in fundraising terms, were becoming increasingly unproductive. The boundaries had gone, and the fundraiser was left feeling deflated and out of control.

Setting professional boundaries is important whether you are starting out in your career or more experienced in your role. Whether talking to senior stakeholders, chairing meetings or getting to know people in a networking situation, these boundaries are there for a reason. We all have the right to feel confident and comfortable at work, and to be respected for what we do. But in some jobs – particularly in the charity and non-profit sector where so much of what we do is dependent on strong, genuine, ongoing relationships – those boundaries can get a bit blurry. And sometimes the blurring seems to go all one way. So, what happens when you’re a fundraiser and your donor oversteps the mark, and suddenly Kevin is your new BFF – even if you don’t really want to be his?

In a working relationship where there’s a significant gap in the perceived status of the people involved – whether it’s power, authority, or wealth – it’s easy for that relationship to become unbalanced. In such cases the ‘less powerful partner’ feels they need to be amiable, attentive, and thankful to the other person, even if that person starts to over-share.

The solution is not to ignore the situation in the hopes it will stop, rather:

 1. Acknowledge it’s happening, and do something about it. This is important if the imbalance is causing the relationship to fail, and the result that there is no longer a service being delivered, or funds being raised. It’s time to move from rapport and relationship building, to a more measured approach. Ask yourself: what is the purpose of this relationship? What would need to be different for me to feel more balanced? What impact do you want to have?

 2. Pay attention to your signals. Are you asking questions that allow the other person to indulge in personal off-loading? Or being too empathetic, and need to be a bit more dispassionate? Consciously steer the conversation away from personal topics. Instead of “How are things at home now?” try “I hope you are well? I saw this interesting bit of news on your website – have you been involved in that?” And be mindful of your non-verbal communication. Use your body language to convey confidence. Sit up straight to show you are being formal but friendly – rather than relaxed. Keep your tone, language and style professional.

3. It may be useful to restate the purpose of each meeting at the start. “I know you are very busy, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time. What I’d like to do in this meeting is [list agenda items].”Consider the outcomes you are looking for.  Send an agenda in advance and ask them to feed in anything they would like to cover. Keep your purpose front of mind throughout each meeting.

4. Bring someone else to the meeting. I have in the past been asked to join a meeting where a colleague had been finding the relationship difficult. Adding a third person changes the dynamic, which in turn can diffuse the personal aspect and get the relationship back onto the professional.

5. Consider neutral territory if you find you are always meeting in Kevin’s office, see if you can move locations at times. This should not cause an inconvenience, but rather levels the playing field. Again, a new venue can change the dynamic, and also reaffirms that this is a temporary transaction – you are meeting for work, not chilling with friends.


The key to resolving these situations is to reflect on what you can do to change the relationship. And not to let it continue. A relationship is two-way. You have the right to control the boundaries as much as the other person – whatever their status. And to have impact, you need to be in control.

For more ideas on how to maximize your personal impact at work, develop your networking skills or understand presence principles, join our session at Fundraising Convention 15.00 – 16.00, Wednesday 5th July 2017. Simon and I would be delighted to see you there!


Yvette Gyles, Assistant Director, =mc

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