You Must Listen Well to Succeed in the Nonprofit Sector
I had a meeting the other day with a board member. My assignment was to ask for a pledge/gift to a fundraising effort we were undertaking. I did not know this individual well. He had a unique personality and communication style. I immediately realized that I would have to give 100 percent attention on literally every word during this meeting to keep the conversation moving, plus obtain the results I strived to attain.
Listening to what was said by that person was vitally important. I had to determine when to listen and when to speak. That was not easy as this was my first significant engagement with this person. All of us interact with this type of potential donor daily. How important is communicating and listening with others to your fundraising success?
In my youth, I played baseball. I played summer baseball on travel teams and high school baseball. I was invited to try out for the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. I also played semi-pro baseball. When I was asked to try out for these major league teams, scouts evaluated my throwing, batting, fielding, running and other physical attributes. One area that they did not evaluate at that time was my eyes and reaction time. In today’s baseball world, many attributes are now evaluated for potential success.
According to DukeHealth, new research suggests that vision and reaction tests resembling video games, plus brain training, can help identify baseball’s best hitters. After reading this information, it occurred to me that listening and communication skill analysis is critical to predict development officer fundraising success.
We come into conversations with our own agendas and low attention spans and that can be a dangerous thing. You can build better relationships and get ahead in business if you learn to actively listen. Good listeners use skills that are like techniques used in martial arts. A good martial artist senses what someone will do next because they are receptive and aware. Listening involves being in the moment. In the moment, which can be in slow motion, you can take everything in and you will remember everything. This information and process is needed when developing solicitation strategies.
According to Forbes, one of the most important skills necessary to thrive in any aspect of life is to be a good listener. That process also means understanding both verbal and physical communication. Pay attention to things like tone, facial expressions, gestures and posture. Listen to someone’s complete message or thought before responding. To get a direct response, be direct with your language and ask questions. After a conversation, recap the conversation verbally or in writing to make sure both of you are on the same page.
Fast Company states that great listeners have six habits that are common to each other. They are:
- They practice being truly mindful.
- They take a pause before responding.
- They paraphrase what was just said.
- They have an open mind.
- They are comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- They are aware of their body language.
Brian Tracy emphasizes that communication skills are the foundation of almost everything you do. Your ability to master effective communication will largely contribute to your success in life. Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. When listening to someone in a sales conversation, look interested, lean forward, listen well, act interested and nod your head to show interest. The ability to pay close, uninterrupted attention to a person when he or she is speaking is a primary listening skill. It requires constant focus and energy. Nod, smile, agree and be both active and involved. Listening builds sales relationships.
According to Target Fundraising Talent, there are four consistent, personality-based attributes that make individuals more successful fundraisers. These are strong communication skills, independence, perceptiveness and versatility. Innate ability and personality are just a part of the fundraiser structure. The attributes just mentioned must be matched with a certain set of behaviors and management structures to create a top performer.
As with any athlete, there are physical attributes that are important to have consistent success. In addition to physical attributes, mental abilities and correct behaviors are needed for ongoing fundraising success. Development professionals must listen well and react positively to the potential donor. It is about them and not you. With proper communication ques, you will find out a great deal about the donor and their feelings toward philanthropy and your charity. Never assume a donor is willing to give to your charity and at any level unless you hear it from them. Through conversations over time, your fundraising ask strategy will become crystal clear and all assumptions will fade. Correct listening takes practice and talent that you will hopefully acquire over time. Your career success depends on listening success. Did you hear what I just said?
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, educator and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 10 years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 26 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.