Shut Up And Listen
It’s exhausting but you have to do it
There are two levels of mind state when connecting with others: subconscious emotional and conscious rational. According to Richard Brown, president of RB Consulting, major gifts officers spend too much time in the latter and not enough in the former.
“We need to think differently, change our perspectives,” he told an audience during Fundraising Day in New York, convened earlier this year by the New York City chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “We are not selling a product. We are presenting an opportunity for a person to fulfill her desire to advance a cause in a way that’s meaningful to her.”
Too often, said Brown, fundraisers take their cues from Alec Baldwin’s character Blake in the story Glengarry Glen Ross, who famously exhorts his underlings to “always be closing.” Don’t spend too much time in sales mode, he warned. Common sales talking points include:
• You’ll be making a difference;
• We’re addressing a need;
• You need us;
• We need you;
• Return on investment;
• Your friends and competitors are donating; and,
• How much growth we’ve experienced.
It becomes all about the organization. “That’s a part of it. But if that’s all we talk about we’re not going to build the kind of relationships that will result in big gifts,” Brown said.
Harley-Davidson sells motorcycles, of course, but it’s really selling freedom. There are only the rules of the road when you’re riding. “We as fundraisers have to tap into that deep desire of donors who want to help us,” said Brown. “Sometimes they don’t know how they want to help. We have the capacity to get to that inner emotion, translate it into something they’d support.”
Donors and prospects develop relationships along two tracks: personal, with an individual fundraiser, and institutional, with the organization, said Brown. It’s a pyramid, beginning with an introduction and moving to interest, then involvement and culminating with a true connection.
When moving prospects up that relationship pyramid, you’ll need to focus on your attributes. “Attributes are who you are,” said Brown. “Skills are what you can do and experience is what you have done.” Attributes like personable, professional, honest and confident add up to character and integrity. “This is the foremost thing in terms of building a relationship,” said Brown.
There’s one attribute above all that fundraisers must cultivate, and that is being a good listener. It’s not difficult, in theory. Just keep your mouth shut and your ears open. It does take work, though. That’s why Brown recommended never scheduling more than three meetings a day. “By the time we get to that fourth meeting, we stop being a good listener. We’re too exhausted.”
People like to talk about themselves. By listening, you allow them to do so. Introverts have an advantage here. Extroverts might be the life of the gala, but introverts are introspective and often more interested in listening than speaking.
The key is to be genuine. “Don’t just act interested,” said Brown. “If you’re more interested in what you have to say, this is probably not the business for you.” NPT
Richard Levey is a New York City-based freelance business and marketing writer who frequently contributes to The NonProfit Times.