Learn This 1 Skill and Improve Your Fundraising Results
I'm a firm believer that empathy has the potential to solve more problems than war and peace put together. From a philosophical standpoint, being able to see the world from another person's point of view can break down a lot of barriers between people.
From a more practical one, boosting your empathic ability could give your fundraising results a shot in the arm.
All the time we are cautioned, "You are not your donor," and, "You have to see the world through your donor's eyes." We all know that, if we could really understand what our donors think, feel and want, we could do a better job of giving it to them.
It's an excellent idea, but how do you go about it? Are there specific skills you can develop or habits you can adopt that will help you really feel the way others feel?
The answer is yes, and they are not that hard to learn. Here are a few things you can do that will help you walk a mile is someone else's shoes:
- Talk less and listen more. When we're talking to others, it's easy to get so wrapped up in our heads that, instead of listening, we're just biding our time and waiting to talk. Make a conscious effort to take a step back and focus on what the other person is trying to communicate.
- Ask someone how her day is going. After she says, "Tine," say, "Tell me about it." Then lean in a little, look in her eyes and really focus on what she's saying. Seeing and hearing another person talk about his or her life breaks down presumptions and stereotypes, and lets you connect in a more human way.
- Tune out distractions when you're in a conversation. Even when we really want to hear what someone has to say, we find our attention wandering. There's so much interesting stuff going on at the same time. But don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) stop you from spending a few fully conscious minutes with someone. The world will still be there when you tune back in.
- Hang out with people who aren't like you. Online life allows, in fact encourages, us to spend all our awareness on people who like what we like, think what we think, talk the way we talk and feel the way we feel. It's easy to listen only to news that reflects our views, to read only pundits who reinforce what we think, to be social with people just like us. It makes life simple, but it also isolates us from understanding things outside our little world.
- Go to bars and restaurants that don't have televisions. One of the dumbest things in modern life, in my opinion, is the ubiquity of TVs in public places. We go out with people we like to places where we can't hear each other talk and spend most of the night distracted by flashing images on screens we can't even hear. I don't know what that is exactly, but it sure isn't communicating.
- Read quality fictions. Some fascinating studies in recent years have shown that reading literary fiction actually sharpens our ability to experience the world from other perspectives.
- Spend some time at the Empathy Library. Yes, it's a real thing, developed by philosopher Roman Krznaric. It's a terrific human resource, full of books, movies and advice on how to be more empathetic. Plus, any site that lists Art Spiegelman's "Maus" in the category of literary fiction is okay by me.
Obviously, improving your empathic skills is about much more than fundraising. It will almost certainly make you a better, happier person. But if one side effect is that it also helps you relate to your donors and prospects more effectively, that's just icing on the cake, right?
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.