As part-owner of a company that recruits fundraising executives, I have had many conversations with foundation leaders about “the ideal candidate.” As we’ve discussed skillset requirements, no one has ever said, “They must be good at listening.” My experience with major gifts, however, is that the ability to engage in natural (not contrived) conversation is essential to securing the gift.
Anyone can listen, but the ability to dialogue with potential donors as a genuinely interested listener is not as easy as one might imagine. The pressure to quickly produce large gifts makes genuine listening more difficult. That pressure can be the result of several things, including unreasonable expectations, lack of experience or the organization’s development strategy.
It is no secret that people like to talk about themselves—that is, if they think the listener is sincerely interested. Donors who have seen a lot of nonprofit fundraisers can immediately tell if the interest is genuine or feigned.
Periodically, I take new fundraising executives with me to visit donors and charitable estate clients. On initial visits, I typically spend half the time talking about family, business, vacations, etc. In those first meetings, some fundraisers accompanying me get a bit nervous, anxious to get down to business. This impatient awkwardness is not confined to rookies. While some fundraisers are natural conversationalists and have the knack for connecting personally with donors, for others it is an acquired skill. The art of listening doesn’t automatically increase with knowledge, experience and promotion. There needs to be an intentional effort to develop listening skills.
Many people have the desire to give, but hesitate for unspoken reasons. Take the time to discover the unspoken concerns that hinder giving decisions. In thousands of donor visits over the years, I have come to realize that the donor’s story is as important as the organization's story. Many times, it is more important.