Listening to Donors

Posted on 08/01/2020

Are you a good listener? Effective fundraisers need to be. Listening helps you learn more about a prospect’s history with an institution, their personal passions, and their philanthropic motivations. Strong listening skills can also help build rapport with donors and increase your credibility during meetings.

But listening is not a passive activity. There is a difference between just hearing what your donors are saying and actually listening to them. Active listening involves asking probing questions and making connections with your prospect. When you listen well, you are better able to align donor interests with the right philanthropic opportunities.

So how do you improve your listening skills? Consider these four tips to help master the art of listening during your next donor meeting:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. These will force your prospects to think, help them engage more in the conversation, and uncover a deeper understanding of your prospect’s connection to your institution and interests. Use follow-up questions that start with phrases like “tell me about that…” or “how so?” to peel back the layers.
  2. Use body language that demonstrates listening. Making eye contact, nodding your head, and maintaining a similar posture are all expressions of interest. Mirroring the prospect’s pace of speech, style, and even tone of voice can also help them feel more comfortable during the conversation.
  3. Restate what you have heard to clarify. Repeating back what you hear shows that you are actually listening and gives the prospect an opportunity to clarify and correct, if necessary. Employing phrases such as “what I’m hearing you say…” or “it sounds like…” can help you better translate their feelings into opportunities or delve deeper into a topic.
  4. Limit your own speaking to 25 percent of the conversation. Talking too much prevents you from gaining insight into your prospect. Whether you are naturally extroverted or just feeling nervous, resist the urge to fill lulls in conversation with words. Remember that the meeting is not about you, it’s about the prospect.

Listening is hard work. Whether you are a seasoned fundraiser or someone new to the profession, it takes effort to keep donors talking. By focusing more on what your prospect is saying, you’ll be better able to align their interests with opportunities. So set your agenda aside and open your ears—you’ll be well on your way to a stronger and more productive donor relationship.

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