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The Deception of Confidence



How many times have you met someone who just exudes confidence and competency, and later you find out or realize the individual is neither. In your role as an advancement officer, you are often in a position to size up potential volunteers, donors, bosses and new or would-be staff members.

We have all seen the folks who are fantastic in interviews, making it clear you can’t go wrong hitching your wagon to their obvious abilities. We get that emotional “gut feeling” that this is the person we want. Eventually we learn there are those who are fantastic at landing jobs, but lousy at doing the job; or lead us to believe they are expert at something but have virtually no real experience with it.

As both an advancement consultant and an executive search professional, I am in a position to see, first hand, someone’s performance within their shop. I am also able to size up the environment that either promotes or hinders success, giving me a greater appreciation for the strengths and shortcomings of advancement officers, volunteers and nonprofit executives. I also compete with consulting firms and independent consultants, and am familiar with their work, sometimes first hand through shared or follow-on clients. Often, unfortunately the disconnect between expectation and reality is large.

I often liken job interviews and consulting presentations to what my two grown children go through as thespians. They tell me that when they audition for a part, their judgment for success is not necessarily if they get the part, but rather if they a call-back for a second reading. The call-back demonstrates they have the “chops” for the part compared to the competition… which is most important to them. Getting the part has more to do with their fit for the character being cast. They need to be the right age, look, height, gait etc., and most of those variables are beyond their control.

While I could ramble on about this, my cautionary note, after being fooled myself far too often, is to reduce, as much as possible, the amount your emotional response contributes to your decision about people. I recognize this might offend some sensibilities, but it is in your best interest to check references, dig deep and not to take things on face value.

I’ll close with a classic example involving Dan Pallotta (my favorite exemplar for such matters). He presented to a large Association for Healthcare Philanthropy conference in September, and he wowed the crowd with his humor, impressive slides and well-rehearsed presentation. The problem was his content. He gave several arguments for his “you are overhead” message, and that nonprofits don’t know what they are doing and donors are interested in the wrong things. His comparisons of nonprofit to for-profit organizations, positions, salaries, and marketing budgets were vacuous and misleading, and really did not make his points if you thought about it. When you compare apples and oranges you get a smoothie. When I shared my views with an occasional member of the enthralled audience after the presentation, their enthusiasm was tempered. (I’m not a curmudgeon… just like spirited conversation.)

Your takes:

2. When something seems too obvious for argument, attempt to find the argument.

3. Try and keep an emotional balance with your business decisions.


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