It has been said over and over that listening to donors is essential. When people feel heard, they feel connected. And when they feel connected, they give. Here are some of the elements of good listening.
Every individual is unique. No two families handle their money in the same way. I have been in the fundraising business for 30 years, and I am still surprised by the direction a conversation about a donor’s commitment can go. If you are really listening, you are trying to understand, not just waiting till it’s your turn to talk.
Listen with Courage.
If you are intimidated by a donor, it’s hard to breathe, and listening without breathing is a trick no one has mastered yet. Ask yourself before the meeting what’s the worst that could happen. Remind yourself that you and the donor are on the same team. Ask yourself: why does this person make me nervous?
Invite Colleagues to Listen with You.
In some organizations, relationships with top donors are the purview of very special staff or board members. Yes, you want to be judicious about having too many people representing the organization. But two or three people connected to the donor makes the relationship richer and more secure.
Listen with Intuition.
Most donors don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your organization. So when they make a suggestion, it might not be the most carefully crafted. Can you hear the intention behind the comment? Can you hear the congruity between the donor’s aspirations and your organization’s?
Listen for Signals about Trust.
Trust is the lubricant that keeps the engine of philanthropy humming. A donor will only give a gift if he or she believes it will be used for the intended purpose. One of the most important elements of your job as a fundraiser is to understand the donor’s level of trust, and how to enhance it.
As you listen to a donor, the story of his or her convictions will become clear. Is your organization the conduit that turns those convictions into reality? If you listen carefully enough to answer a robust and detailed “yes,” then you, the donor, and the organization will all benefit. Here are some questions that will move the relationship in the right direction:
- How did you first become connected to this organization?
- How did you come to care about this cause?
- How did you first decide to give away money?
- How do you like to be treated by the organizations you are connected to?
- Have you had experiences as a philanthropist that have been especially fulfilling?
The preceding is a guest post by Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.