the monkey curious george looking through binoculars curiousityDo you ever come home after a party and realize that no one at the party ever asked you anything about yourself? Do you find that this is a recurring situation?

I don’t know about you, but I find that most people I meet are just not very curious.

I just don’t get it. I guess ever since I’ve been a little kid I wanted to ask questions and find out more about whatever was in front of me. But perhaps we’re just so wrapped up in our own lives these days that we have little desire to know what others are doing, feeling and thinking?

In one of our recent live chats for our online Major Gift Academy course, we were discussing the importance of curiosity in being a great major gift officer. We debated whether or not curiosity was just something engrained in you – or if it was something you could practice and get better at.

I think it’s both, actually. Some people are just born curious. I remember when I was a kid, I would be over at a friend’s house and I would be “grilling” his parents about something and my friend would finally say, “Would you just shut up? Geez you ask a lot of questions!” Yeah, I’m sure I was pretty annoying.

That is one extreme, but you are probably somewhere closer to the middle of the curiosity spectrum. And in your daily work, with everything you have to do as an MGO, it’s hard to find time to step back and be curious about the donors in your portfolio.

What we concluded in our “live chat” the other day was that to be a great MGO, you have to carve out time each day – or a part of each week – to look at your major donor caseload and let curiosity start to take over.

In other words, being curious with your donor means you are actively trying to figure out what makes your donor tick. What drives her to make the gifts she does? Why does she have a passion for our organization? What happened in her life to make her who she is?

How often do you think about your donors this way?

Exactly – not enough.

Here are some practical tips on how to maintain your curiosity and to use it when you are talking with donors:

  1. Carve out time — either every day for 45 minutes or 4 hours during the week, to focus on your portfolio and ask yourself a series of questions about your donors that allows you to find out their passions and interests and why they have them. Target your A-level donors first.
  2. Create a list of questions. Write down a list of questions that you would ask if a donor were sitting next to you. Questions like these: What inspired you to give to our organization? Why did you invest in this particular program of ours? What inspires you the most? What brings you joy? What has been your experience when you have given a gift to our organization? What was the best experience you ever had when you gave a gift, and why? What is your vision for your philanthropy? What are you passionate about outside our own organization? Why are you passionate about it? Did the way you grew up affect how you give to others?
  3. Keep that list with you. After you have created your list of questions, tape it to your desk, keep a miniature version of it in your purse or wallet, put it up in your home. Why? So that it becomes a part of you.
  4. Practice curiosity. Take those questions and practice them on as many people as you can. Get in the habit of asking meaningful questions. The more you ask these questions, the easier it will be with your donors.
  5. Listen. The powerful part of being curious is the ability to listen. Ask the question, then sit still and really hear your donor. What your donor tells you will lead you to where you should go next.

If you want to be a great major gift officer, you need to be curious. Whether you have it naturally or you gain it by practice… it doesn’t matter. Curiosity will lead you and your donors on an incredible journey, where you get to bridge the gap by taking the donor in one hand – and in your other, taking the need your organization addresses – and bring them together.

How will you practice curiosity today?

Jeff

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2 Comments

  • Steve says:

    Interesting…I often think about this a lot, however, in reverse! I am always so amazed that I’ll meet with someone, ask a ton of questions into everything about them and they will not ask me one thing.

    We all know there are more talkers than listeners in the world, people like to talk (especially about themselves), how often does someone get a chance to tell their story?

  • Venetia Vango says:

    “Would you just shut up? Geez you ask a lot of questions!”
    Thank you for a good laugh-out-loud moment for the morning!
    It IS interesting, talkers vs listeners. When I’m with a donor, I am fascinated by what my E.D. calls my way of “pulling threads,” to see where a donor’s life details will take the conversation. And when appropriate, I share from my life experience just a bit – bidden or no. I don’t want a donor to feel as though I’m mining them for information, rather than building a relationship.
    LOVE the list of questions! Especially the last three:
    What are you passionate about outside our organization?
    Why are you passionate about it?
    Did the way you grew up affect how you give to others?

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