Listening to Our Donors
I love to be prepared for meetings. To accomplish this, I prepare an intensive briefing document for our executive team and other volunteers who call on donor and prospect calls with me. If there’s time, I’ll have a briefing session to review the document. Agendas are sent to both parties so the meeting is relevant, timely and complete. I really believe that these small steps set the table for fruitful conversation.
There is however one small ritual I have prior to meeting with prospective donors. I take out the agenda and across the top scrawl: LISTEN!!!
I do this to remind myself of the real purpose of these meetings: listening to my donors as they come to understand their own capacity to give and why they chose my charity to be the vehicle for their gift. Listening, as many development books and professionals have pointed out, requires the vigor and attention of skilled development practitioners. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing some professionals we really admire because of their ability to listen to their donors and peers. They seem to develop conversations that convey trust, integrity and shared meaning without saying very much. I don’t have an adjective to adequately explain what they do, but I know they listen with a different skill set than most.
Two realizations come to my mind about the way these rare few are able to listen. The first is that this level of listening to donors requires authentic humility on the part of the development professional. This type of humility is a powerful characteristic. It gives the listener the enviable role of realizing how small their role truly is in the realization of a gift. It also gives us insight into the donor’s character and the sacrifices they have made in order to arrive at the gift conversation. I believe both parties leave these conversations with a new level of trust and admiration for each other .
The second realization is that this type of listening helps these development professionals create a true and complete stewardship plan for the donor. Stewardship reports are important for our institutions on a macro level, but real stewardship for these great listeners is the means by which they keep kindled the trust granted and accepted during their previous meetings.
This type of listening and stewardship is experiential and it takes time (and often honest mistakes!) to learn how to practice them consistently. I feel a deep sense of respect and gratitude for those donors who have had those conversations with me. It was in those deep conversation that I have sometimes witnessed the reality of Whitman’s words, “Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself.”
As donors give of themselves it is our privilege to see humanity’s better nature reveal itself. It is humbling to be present in those moments. To understand them is to understand the process of how the donor arrived there and how precious those moments are. We prepare for those moments by learning to listen when the gift isn’t present in the conversation.
Arriving on the not for profit scene 7 years ago, Coy has been fortunate to fundraise for organizations in the social services and post-secondary sectors. He is currently delivering Athabasca University’s Re: Imagine Campaign and volunteering for 3 organizations that make Calgary a great city. A graduate of the University of Calgary, Coy won critical acclaim for his portrayal of ‘The Fox’ in Central Elementary’s production of Pinocchio.