Do You Believe You Are An Effective Listener?

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 | 0 comments

The following post is taken in its entirety from an email I received today from Kevin Gentry at the Charles Koch Foundation. It’s excellent and right on target.  I hope you’re listening:

Do you believe you are an effective listener?

We’ve frequently discussed how listening is so key to successful long-term donor cultivation.  It’s an important element of donor involvement, as well.

In The Artful Journey, Bill Sturtevant tells us –

The goal of the effective listener is to encourage the prospect to talk, then listen in order to understand his or her views, unique needs and fears relating to the gift decision.  To be effective requires that you listen without an agenda.  It is in this manner that you can truly become a partner and a consultant to your prospect as he or she works through the gift decision.

Maybe this arrives as you are scrambling to close out your year-end gift solicitations.  Or, maybe your activities are focused on processing all of those contributions that are pouring in right now.  Either way, hopefully you’re also in contact with your best supporters to convey your heartfelt gratitude for what they’ve helped you to achieve.

As you’re speaking with these most generous contributors, are you able to resist the temptation to talk, continuing to sell your program, and perhaps give these thoughtful folks the chance to speak, instead?

You may recall a story I’ve shared before: 

My very first donor meeting, more than two decades ago, was with the quintessential “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”  She was a very dear, patriotic widow living in a beautiful old home perched on a hill in Pasadena, California overlooking the Rose Bowl.

I was fully prepared to make the case to her why her giving had been so valuable.  I was well-armed with lots of facts and figures, anecdotes and endorsements to pile on how our organization was the best there could possibly be.

Trouble was, this dear lady wouldn’t let me get in a word edgewise!  Try as a I might to make my case, she dominated the conversation for a full two hours.  Then realizing I had another appointment, I literally started sweating that I was going to have to end my very first donor meeting without uttering a substantive point about why our cause was the greatest.

Finally, I stood up to excuse myself.  I just had to go.  And I was leaving with a sense of utter failure and defeat.  But then, this generous supporter surprised me by giving me a big hug and exclaiming, “Thank you so much for coming over today.  I’ve learned so much about your good and important work!”

Funny stuff, huh?

You might consider this specific advice offered by Stephen Clouse.  As you may know, Stephen uses video in donor persuasion, and he has helped raise millions of dollars for groups such as the Reagan Ranch and Mount Vernon.  Here’s “Great Questions to Guide Effective Listening” that he sent me to share with you. 

Have you ever seen a master interviewer get a guest to open up on camera?  Active listening is the way you motivate another person in conversation.  It’s when we open up and reveal our deepest thoughts and hidden desires.  The need for thought-provoking questions is the key to great conversation.  These are the types of open-ended questions that require longer answers.  They almost always start with who, what, when, where, why and how.  Here are some examples of great questions that promote active listening.    

1.     Why are you interested in (organization or issue)?

2.     What brought you to get involved?

3.     Why is this important to you?

4.     In addition to that, is there anything else?

5.     If there was one thing and only one thing you wanted people to know about, why this issue was important to you, what would it be?

Another form of donor involvement that involves listening is asking some of your supporters for advice and counsel.  This has multiple benefits.

You might find value in this story shared by Gretchen Hamel of Public Notice –

Earlier this year, we contacted a supporter who is a nationally recognized entrepreneur to see how we could work together on messaging and advertising.  After starting in the advertising business in the 1950s, this gentleman went on to purchase a New York billboard advertising company in the early 1960s, building it into a major regional business in the Southwest.  He then went on to head a major American film production and distribution company before leaving to build the second largest convenience store chain in the United States. 

We scheduled a call with the donor with two goals in mind; first, we could explain the goals of our operation and second (and more importantly) to actively listen to him so we could use his wisdom and business knowledge to improve our organization.  Since our initial conversation our group, Public Notice, has had regular communication with this donor, giving him updates on our progress, soliciting his insight on outdoor advertising, and working together to ensure that our messaging is on the right track.  

This relationship has shown amazing returns for our organization, with the donor advising on which outdoor vendors to work with, his assistance in placing our outdoor advertising in high traffic locations, and garnering our group substantial discounts on pricing that has saved our group tens of thousands of dollars.  

And you thought development was all about simply asking your prospects for money!

Thank you, Kevin, for reminding us of the importance of listening effectively!

This isn’t the first T|R|T post about the value of listening. Earlier this year I posted Silence is Golden, and you might also remember a previous T|R|T blog post about listening where I mentioned a favorite sign that is over my desk. Let me share again:

“Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”



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