I Promise…

by Marcy Heim on March 17, 2017

I Promise Header

Did you notice how these two words made you feel?

For our families, friends, donors, colleagues and boards, “I promise” is a powerful tool for building trust in a relationship.

  • “Son, I promise I’ll get off early Friday, and we will get an ice cream, just us two.”
  • “Honey, I promise after this big project is done, we’ll go out to a nice dinner.”
  • “I promise to share how (board member) Alice’s visit with John and Martha went at our next meeting.  We are grateful to Alice for arranging this.”
  • “I promise to call when I get back out to this area so we can connect again.”
  • “I promise to let you know how your project is going before the end of next month.”

There is POWER in “I promise.”

In his work on building trust, Stephen M. R. Covey talks about the amazing relationship capital a promise can generate. It can build and fill positive emotional bank accounts between people.

The impact begins the second the words, “I promise” are uttered.  The anticipation of the promise coming true is part of the joy!

People remember a promise. Don’t you?

When I am beginning with a new prospective major giver…on that very first visit…I generally always have a promise or two to make in mind.  Is there a new easy and uplifting piece I can send? Is an event coming up they can easily be included in?   Is there some connection I can make for them?  A way to serve them?  These become, “John and Gladys, our spring garden tour is a delightful event. I promise to call you with the details just as soon as I know them, but certainly before April 1st.” Or, “I promise to get an invite out to you by next Friday so you can consider joining us.” Or “I promise to pass along your kind words to the Dean,” (and have the Dean acknowledge this).


I promise oneMaking a promise is such a simple, yet great tool. I create some actions that I can have at-the-ready for just this purpose. Other times I listen carefully for some unique way to connect, especially for those first visits that demonstrate a strong sharing of values, interests, and capacity with my organization.   If I want to make the second appointment easy to secure, “I promise to call you in May to continue this conversation just after Mother’s Day.”  Think about it. “Oh hello, John. This is Marcy. Remember I promised to call you this month so we could continue our conversation after Mother’s Day? Is next Thursday good?”

Honestly, when connecting is about me keeping my promise, it seems to flow so easily.

Here are a few tips to deepening a relationship with, “I promise.”

  1. Keep it simple. Pick a few things you (or your assistant) can easily do.
  2. Personalize as much as possible.  Your handwritten sticky note on the latest newsletter with, “I promised to send our latest news! I’ll give a call to see what you liked best.”
  3. Chocolate chip cookies are always a hit.  Even if they don’t eat them, they can share them.
  4. Remind them you are fulfilling your promise.
  5. Always come from a place of sincerity and authenticity – deepening their trust and connection with you and thus your organization.
  6. Make sure YOU control the delivery of the promise.  So, “I promise to have Betty get in touch.” Nope. You don’t control Betty.
  7. Be VERY specific in the timing of fulfillment.  “I promise to call early next week” is NOT good. “Early next week” may be Monday at 8 am for your donor and by Wednesday noon to you. Be specific.

There is, of course, one MAJOR contingency with making promises.

Broken promises break trust and hurt!

And, “I’m sorry, while heartfelt, can’t make up for the disappointment.

You MUST Keep Your Promises!

I had a donor say, “Oh Marcy, I was holding off going out because I remembered you promised to call today.”  YIKES – glad I got THAT done!

I promise twoIn both our personal and professional relationships – make promises to deepen the trust and confidence you inspire with the other person.  Make promises carefully and sparingly so that you can always honor them.  When something does cause you to break a promise, apologize and acknowledge you are sorry to have let them down.  For longer and stronger relationships, this will happen.

We are not perfect.  If the positive emotional bank accounts are high, it will be alright. If it is a new relationship or if this happens often, the depletion of the emotional bank account can be severe.  Don’t underestimate the power of the hurt, especially to a child, and be very guarded from making promises you consistently can’t keep.  It is far better to set true, but disappointing expectations than not deliver.  “With our program director out of the office, it will be at least two weeks before I can get back to you with that answer. I know you wanted the information sooner.”

If you use this tool sincerely and effectively, I promise you will see wonderful results in your relationships and the speed at which you can build trust.

Yes, I promise!

Invest in Joy!

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