Listening – The Lost Art

Major Gifts – Beyond the Solicitation Series – Part 5

David A. Mersky image
People talk more than they listen.

The problem is pervasive in modern society. Many of us don’t listen because we’re too busy talking, texting, blogging, and using Twitter and Facebook to give our point of view.

Because most people have gotten used to talking without listening, this tendency to transmit rather than receive has become the hallmark of the cyber-era. The attitude that often characterizes our narcissistic society is “no view is as an enlightened and informed as my view,” we don’t even bother to consider what others have to say.

That the ability to listen has lagged so much in this digital age, when the channels of communication have multiplied, seems ironic and counterproductive. And, in major gifts fundraising—when you are face-to-face with your prospective donor—the failure to listen is a recipe for disaster and why I named this piece,  Listening – The Lost Art.

When we are in a solicitation or cultivation meeting, a huge mistake too many of us make is to be so eager to make our point, we stop listening as we search for a way to grab the conversation.

In truth, when we listen, we communicate. How we listen determines how well we communicate—and how effectively we solicit or steward a donor.

Many of the most successful people in the world — whether in business, politics, the arts, or social relations — have been good listeners. It is a skill that is rarely instinctive, but it can be learned.

  • Pay attention and do not be distracted. Serious conversation is never easy. Stay in the moment and listen attentively.
  • Listen well, you must want to hear what the other person is telling you. You must be empathetic and focused on the other person.
  • Do not be judgmental. A major duty of the listener/solicitor is to be open-minded and to reserve judgment.
  • To be a good listener, one must also exercise restraint — be patient and do not interrupt. Be the relaxed, attentive listener who patiently waits, or is even gently encouraging.  Then you may be the one who truly hears and overcomes the objection and achieves the gift.
  • Express what you think or feel, but avoid being argumentative or aggressively competitive. Do not engage in intellectual gamesmanship.
  • Misinterpretation of what someone else may be saying is another barrier to becoming a good listener. Never hesitate to ask for clarification or to restate what you’ve heard in your own words to make certain you heard what was intended. Done properly, this will tell the prospect you are truly listening and want to understand the points being made.
  • Be alert to coded messages. Sometimes, what you are being told is communicated less in words than in sighs, pauses, laughs, asides, gestures, tears or facial expressions. Be aware of the total range of human communication.
  • Observe body language and be mindful of your own. Leaning slightly forward implies both attention and interest as does the occasional nod. Sitting or standing with your arms across your chest gives the impression that you are not interested or are being critical. Frowning or smiling inappropriately may send the signal that you are not really listening.

Listening is the single most powerful tool in your kit of fundraising skills, if you are willing to develop the skill.

To speak with David about how he can help you learn to listen, call him at 800.361.8689


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