I’ve always been a loud mouth. I love to talk. I’ve had the “gift of gab” since I can remember. It’s why people think I make a great fundraiser.
They are wrong. It is one of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my professional career.
Because major gifts fundraising is about listening (and asking great questions). Anything my donor has to say, is more important than anything I have to say. My donor’s passion for the cause matters more than my own. Their experiences matter more than mine. Their stories are more powerful than mine. And trust me when I tell you, your donors won’t talk to you if you don’t listen.
We have all hear the proverb that we were born with two ears and one mouth. One of the hardest things for extroverted, social, chatty fundraisers to learn is to use their ears. I want you to all start becoming better listeners; Olympic listeners, super hero listeners. How??? Well it takes time and practice, but here are some steps to get you started:
- Ask more questions than you make statements. Instead of giving endless elevator pitches about your organization, try asking questions: When did you first decide to support our charity? When were you proudest to be a champion of this cause? What do you want the world to be like in 50 years? How can we get there together?
- Be present. Focus on what is being said, not what you want to say next. It’s almost like calming breaths in yoga. Turn off your internal voice, and focus on what your donor is saying. They are giving you something incredibly valuable to us as a fundraiser – knowledge about the donor.
- Watch their body language and look for a “spark”. I was once sitting with a donor who seemed quite bored to be talking to me. Somehow the subject of her daughter came up, and her whole demeanor changed. Her daughter was her spark, the flood gates had opened. Everyone has things they are passionate about and want to share with the world, pay attention so you don’t miss them.
- Don’t pretend to listen. Authenticity is a necessity in major gifts fundraising; all fundraising, really. You aren’t the actor you think you are, and it is obvious when you are faking it.
- Remind yourself who you are speaking to, and how you want them to feel. This is a donor you are talking to. They deserve to feel heard, respected and valued. You are lucky to have them share their time with you, and luckier still to have them share their words, thoughts and experiences.
These are skills you can practice all day, every day. Try listening to your co-workers, to your friends, to your spouse. It isn’t easy for me, and maybe it won’t be for you, but I promise in time it will get easier. You can become a better listener, and maybe, a better person.
Thanks for listening,