I’ll Pick Your Brain & Drop Your List

Photo courtesy of brain malfunction on Flickr

I’ve faced two letdowns recently, from people who “picked my brain” and then thanked me by leaving my email list. Not enough for a trend–and hardly monumental rejections–but they’ve got me thinking.

One gentleman came to a Planned Giving workshop at a local nonprofit support center. He joined my email list, as many do. About a year later he emailed me to ask for help finding an internship that would broaden his fundraising experience. We talked about his interests. I connected him with a former client and he got what he was seeking, with a very well known nonprofit. A few months later he unsubscribed from my list.

More recently, a friend whose business is real estate-related asked me for fundraising advice around a project she was taking on at a charity she’s active with. I counseled her for about an hour-and-a-half on the phone, then gave her feedback on an introduction letter she wrote. This month she unsubscribed from my list.

I think after I willingly helped them for free, the very least they could do is stay on my email list.

When I help someone, I never expect something in return. That is to say, I don’t expect any gain. Nor do I expect a diminution in our relationship.

It’s not exactly an expression of gratitude to unsubscribe.

I’ve got over a thousand committed people on my list and I’m grateful to each of them. They make links trend when I send my weekly radio show alerts; they come out to hear me speak; they come out to my stand-up comedy; they listen to my show and give me constructive feedback. I’m enormously grateful.

It’s not a matter of numbers. It’s a matter of simple courtesy.

Am I being unreasonable? Overly sensitive? I’d be grateful for your constructive feedback.

16 thoughts on “I’ll Pick Your Brain & Drop Your List

  1. People gaining knowledge from your writing is gratifying. I don’t know that that happened with the gentleman I wrote about.

    Thanks for the good wishes, Lorri. Happy Happy!

  2. Hi Tony, I know how you feel. It seems, by these responses, so do a lot of other people. But I’ve learned not to take it to heart. Look at it this way, sometimes you’re so helpful that people will move past their current needs to greater ones. After all you can’t always write for everybody. For example, I usually write to pg “beginners” in my blog. But after a while, especially when they start sending me (or calling me with) specifi questions, I can see their knowledge has grown. So, if they leave my “list” I like to think it’s because – with my assistance – their knowledge has grown to a point where it’s right for them to be moving on.

    What do you think? BTW, Happy New Year, Tony!

  3. Tony, I would be stung . . . AND pissed. To ease the hurt, ASK them why. And listen carefully. Was it cancer, a digital glitch or just being a jerk. You will find out. In the meantime, savor these comments above mine on your generosity of spirit, your stature in the industry, and, well, likeability. If it IS jerkness, then I would agree with the comment about education. That’s what liberal education is supposed to do: teach values, as well as transferable skills, like critical thinking. There is some lacunae here in the world-view of these nasty takers. Learning about, for example, the role of philanthropy in building this country, would never allow you to insult one of life’s true givers.

  4. I agree with Jan C, why not contact them and ask why. The answer may be surprising or not, but just the simple act of contacting them and asking the question may lead to them reflecting on their actions. In 30 years of non-profit fundraising and consulting this is something that has happened to me in terms of asking for advice and then disappearing, it is only recently that I’ve taken the time to follow up and it is surprising how many people do not realize how rude and inappropriate their actions have been. Hopefully too, many have learned from this follow up.

  5. Maybe they were subscribed twice – with two different email accounts – so just unsubscribed from one so as not to waste time deleting the duplicate message? Happens to me sometimes.

  6. Tony,
    Being a landlord and seeing how people treat you after you have helped them should give you insight into human nature. On the other hand, people do drop out of e-mail lists. Are you sure you’re being dissed? Or are they just part of the normal churn of your list, and you just notice it more? That said, it does seem rude.

  7. Tony,

    When my twin boys hit the age where parents could no longer or would no longer dictate play dates or a “everyone play together nicely attitude”, which I’d say was around 4th grade, they became somewhat the target of a bully. When they would get in the car and pour their sweet hearts out to me not understanding at all why some people were just rude, I’d say “I’m so sorry but just think aren’t you glad you’re on the recieving end and not the giving end in this situation”. Today at age 16 my twin boys are well rounded, secure and most of all kind and compassionate to others”. You keep being you regardless of other folks rude behavior – some people weren’t taught better and some people just choose to believe we are here to get what’s in it for us as individuals – I feel sorry for them.

    Good Luck

  8. Tony — I think you are going over and above to give free information and advice to people, whether on your blog, or especially in person or over the telephone. You are essentially giving away business that others pay you to provide. As a public relations counselor, I have had similar things happen. If nothing else, now you know who these people truly are. Thank you for sharing all that you do.

  9. A famous rabbi from Jerusalem used to give out pebbles to the people he helped. When queried as to why he did so he responded, “This is so that you will only throw pebbles at me and not rocks”. This is human nature. When it is not so, it is miraculous.

  10. Tony, your reputation, your “worth” is about how you treat others, not how they treat you! Do not take this to heart, in fact, do not waste a moment thinking about them. You will be remembered by how you lived and your intimate relationships – not your twitter followers or Klout score number of subscribers (or car you drive, etc.). You are a good and smart guy and share your wealth of experience. Celebrate the better people on your lists!

  11. Sadly, this has happened to me too; over and over again. After 20 years in non profit fundraising and development I feel used and disappointed. I even discovered on more than a few occasions my presentations shown at job interviews were used without my permission and I have even had an interviewer try to take photographs when I went to the bathroom of a development plan. and I didn’t get the jobs! I love mentoring and helping (that’s why my career has been working in non profits) but ethics and just plain respect and politeness has seemed to have disappeared. Maybe there is a general lack of respect for non profit fund development professionals – or maybe a lack of education ? Which slides me nicely into bringing your attention to a very heavily discussed blog on linked in the chronicle of philanthropy group about this subject. Is it destroying non profit fund development?

    This could also lead me into the topic being heavily discussed on the Linkedin

  12. I don’t think you are being overly sensitive. You might want to contact them and ask why they unsubscribed. Maybe they got cancer and are disengaging from everything. If they have negative feedback, you could consider using it to improve your “product”. If nothing else, they will know thAt you know they are ungrateful schmucks.

  13. Tony: I agree with the other comments that you are not being overly sensitive. My situation is a little different than yours. We have people contacting us to help them if they have been a victim of a scam, or how not to be a victim of a scam. Since we are a nonprofit, we rely on donations to do our work. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told we helped someone immensely, and they would make a donation; but then not follow through. But we still keep giving the information because it is what we do, and people need to know how to file a complaint, or keep from being a victim losing all their life savings to an Internet criminal.

    To me what will be interesting is when they have to come back hat in hand and ask you for more help. And I believe that will happen. How they do it will speak volumes.

  14. No- you are not being unreasonable. I do think that there are a number of people who do not know how to network, much less develop a relationship over time (let’s see how successful they are with fundraising)!

  15. Hi Tony, I do not think you are being oversensitive. These individuals both picked you brain and it is disheartening that they no longer are interested in reading your insights and information on the nonprofit industry which as we both know is full of many diverse and varied components. Keep up the good work — for so many that are continually learning and growing in the nonprofit sector.

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