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Fundraising Training Exercise: Active Listening—What Did You Hear?

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Listening may be the most important skill in face-to-face fundraising. This exercise reminds solicitors who tend to talk too much (in other words, most of us) about the value of active listening. To quote a training manual for hospice volunteers, "We listen, waiting to impose on the speaker a detailed account of our own personal experience"—which is obviously a poor model for building respectful relationships. This exercise will help you create a better model.

Why Do This Exercise?

To help your trainees focus less on the pitch—what they say about your organization—and focus more on the donor's needs and interests

Use This Exercise When

You're preparing to meet with donors and you want to strengthen your listening skills

Time Required

10-15 minutes


Anyone who plans to conduct meetings with donors


A quiet room large enough for people to pair up, talk, and hear each other


  • Stopwatch or timer
  • Bell or whistle

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. Ask participants to pair up, preferably with someone they don't know well.
  2. One member of the pair says to the other, "Tell me a story—the more specific, the better—about your favorite relative. Why is this person your favorite? Why is this story important to you?" The speaker can take up to two minutes to answer. The listener should listen without taking notes.
  3. After two minutes, ring the bell. The listener then repeats the story in his or her own words. The goal is not to remember the story word for word, but rather to accurately paraphrase it.
  4. The speaker provides feedback to the listener: you remembered this part well, here's something you might have missed.
  5. After a minute or two, ask the teams to switch roles and repeat the exercise.
  6. Reconvene the full group. Debrief the exercise by asking the following questions.

    • What did you learn?
    • While your partner was speaking, what did you find yourself doing other than listening? How might you address that tendency in the future?
    • If you were asked to do this exercise again, what would you do differently? Why? How?
    • What are three things you can do when you visit a donor to make sure you really listen?

Training Tip

As with many role plays, it helps to model what you want in front of the group before asking everyone to participate. In this case, recruit someone to tell you a story about a favorite relative, then follow the instructions above.

How useful did you find this exercise? Give us your feedback.

Other Excerpts from This Book

Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson
© 2014, Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson. Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Visit the website for this book

Fundraising Training Exercise: Active Listening—What Did You Hear_Andrea-Kihlstedt.pngAndrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.


Fundraising Training Exercise: Active Listening—What Did You Hear_Andy_Robinson.jpgAndy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

Topics: Fundraising