Are you fully listening? How many times have you made a discovery call on a donor prospect, only to leave having done most of the talking?
As fundraisers, we are often the first contact a prospect or donor has with our ministry or organization, and we are responsible, therefore, to inform them about its important mission and vision. Yet that can leave precious little time to find out about their spiritual and philanthropic needs.
Exacerbating this is society’s decreasing span of attention. The social media lifestyle has lowered our capacity to really listen to what another is telling us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “impatient, inattentive listening.” (See Bonhoeffer full statement below.)
Every major gift workshop you have attended has told you the same thing−that successful major gift fundraising begins with relationships. These cannot be cursory relationships, however. The most successful fundraisers I have known are those who truly cared about their donors and their donors’ lives−who celebrated life’s joys and mourned life’s sorrows side by side. It is in relationships like this that we experience and share the true spirituality of fundraising. Relationships like this start by listening with no preconceptions.
The next time you visit with a donor or donor prospect, be aware of how you are listening. Use your active listening skills, and spend the time to find out what is truly important to them. Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. There will be plenty of time later to make the case on behalf of your organization.The following is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:
“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”