Effective Communication Builds Healthy Donor Relationships

Are you communicating effectively?

Fifth in the series: Six Traits of Healthy Donor Relationships

I could go on forever with lists on how to communicate effectively. But it all boils down, in my opinion, to two big points:

  1. You listen well and capture the meaning AND intent of your donors.
  2. You give them information they want and care about.

If all of us practiced these two rules in all of our relationships, things would be easier. My wife, more frequently than I like to admit, says to me: “Richard, didn’t you hear what I said?” And I have to admit I didn’t. Why? Because I was more enamored and preoccupied with what I was interested in vs. what she was saying. So I really did not hear what she said.

Or you are in a business or personal relationship and the other person tells you what they need from you, in terms of information or input; but you just keep dishing out what is important to you or what you think the other person would be interested in. It is so funny (maybe tragic is a better word) how this happens. I catch myself second-guessing what the other person needs to hear, even though they have plainly told me what it is. “Well,” I say to myself, “if I just tell them these two other things, I think it will make a tremendous difference.” No it won’t. But I sure feel good about telling them.

You know how it is with donors. They’re yapping away – see, even the choice of the word “yapping” says it all. We sometimes just do not feel like hearing what they have to say. So we are looking at Facebook or Google when we are on a call with them. Or doodling on the paper in front of us. Or thinking about what we are going to do this afternoon after work.

So the donor is talking away, and it is very difficult to concentrate and really listen and hear their concerns, or to feel the energy about their passions. If we are not careful, we will miss it. After all, it is just another donor call. And “I have to get 25 in this week so I’d better wrap this up.”

Now don’t get me wrong. There are hundreds of MGOs who just love talking to donors, and they listen well. What I am saying here is that, to one extent or another, we all have trouble listening. And if we don’t listen well and capture donor intent and meaning, we will miss hearing them.

The second point of effective communication is just as important – you give them the information they want and care about. Note the qualifying language in this phrase – information that they want and that they care about. It is not information that you want to give them. Or that your boss wants to give them. Or that the PR or Communications Director decided was important to disseminate. Nope. This has very, very little to do with you or the organization.

Fundamentally, the donor wants to know her giving made a difference. If you can’t tell her that, in believable ways, she will be gone in a nanosecond. Gone. And here’s another thing Jeff and I have seen: the donor asks for proof of performance information, and the MGO finally sends it to her a month later! Goodness. Good for the MGO – he actually sent the info. But waiting so long to send it almost cancels out that he sent it. When your donor asks for something and you promise to send it, do it quickly. It shows respect, attention, valuing and caring.

How are you doing with listening and giving donors what they want? Take a look at your caseload right now. I am sure there are some donors you communicate with very well because they are easy to talk to. And then there are those other donors. I know. But this is where, as an act of your will, you do what you know is right. And what is right is to listen well and give the donor the information he wants.

Richard

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One Comment

  • I love this post! I always think of “information is power” and in the major gift officer context, the donors give you that information when you listen. You can have more powerful asks, relationships and experiences by gleaning all that info!

    On your second point, yes, too often we push out the information we want to share, rather than what each donor would like to hear.

    As usual, you guys are on point!

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