When was the last time you talked to your best friend? When was the last time you talked with your parents or a family member? And I mean actually talked — not an electronic exchange? Or talked with a co-worker — in person, not by text or email? When was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with a donor?
If the answer wasn’t one day this week, there may be a problem. As we continue to work with clients, we are discovering development and senior leadership team members who are getting further and further away from listening. Our-fast paced lives and the wonders of social media have increased our capacity for messaging and branding but may have pushed aside our capacity and willingness to listen. We do a lot of talking — telling our story, creating and building our brands and promoting our awesome program work. But we must make room to listen.
Several examples come to mind. One involved the question of whether or not to engage in a feasibility study prior to a campaign. The executive director wanted to do the study, but the development director did not. The boss had the final say, and the study commenced. To both of their surprise and jubilation, when they actually listened, they discovered that their donors were interested in supporting an even larger goal than was proposed!
Another story, different ending: By investing in research and listening to the opinions shared, the organization learned it was far off base with its campaign goals. Subsequently, the campaign projects were reconfigured, costs reconsidered, and the campaign launched and concluded successfully.
One more success story: A development director had a visit with a donor, just to say thanks. And the discussion brought to light the donor’s enthusiasm for the organization and its work, and it led to the donor’s involvement in other projects. The staff member probed and learned some important information about the donor and how she liked to be treated, recognized and involved. The development director was able to go back and adjust the donor’s stewardship plan to more effectively engage her — all of which resulted in a significant current and planned gift.
Conversations can take time to schedule and then actually accomplish. But what may seem to some as slowing down can actually be an accelerant to current and future success. Get out there and listen!
Lou Anne brings extensive experience in nonprofit development and strategic planning to the Lighthouse Counsel team. She is former director of development for the Siloam Family Health Center and has worked with the Tennessee Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, as well as in a variety of development positions at Western Kentucky University, University of Central Florida and Auburn University.