We often write about the subject of listening because it is the most common reason MGO’s fail at their jobs.  I want to add to Jeff’s May 28th post on this subject with some practical ways to become a better listener:

  1. First, active listening means asking questions.  Questions are the best way to secure interaction and make sure you are disciplining yourself to listen.  There are four types of questions you should use in your interaction with donors:
  • Confirmation Questions – “So, NAME, what we have agreed to is X?  Am I hearing you right on that?”
  • New Information Questions – “There was one thing I was wondering about, NAME.   I’m curious as to why you are so interested in X?  Would you mind talking about that more with me?”
  • Opinion Questions – “There is one thing I would like your opinion on, NAME.  What do you think about X?”
  • Commitment Questions – “Thanks so much, NAME, for your commitment to give X.  So, as I understand it, you will be sending in Y on DATE and Z on DATE.  Is that correct?”
  1. Always ask for permission to ask questions.  This shows respect for the donor, not only about the topic of the question, but as to how you are using his or her time.  Here is what it sounds like:  “Do you mind, NAME, if I ask you a question?”
  2. Explain reasons for sensitive questions.  Let’s say you want to uncover the interests of your donor.  One way to do that is to find out what other organizations and causes she gives to.  But just coming out and saying, “What other organizations do you give to”, may be too abrupt and seem intrusive.  A better way is to say, “In order for me to get to know you better, NAME, I’d like  to understand what your interests are.  Would you mind sharing with me what other causes you give to so I can understand this better?”
  3. Ask what benefits are desired in the donor’s giving.  It is very important to understand what the donor wants to get out of the giving transaction.  This is fundamental.  If you don’t know this critical piece of information you will not be successful in building a good relationship with the donor.  Here is a way to ask this question:  “May I ask you a question, NAME?  [Yes]. Well, one of the things I understand about giving is that there are reasons, often specific reasons, that people give.  Sometimes those reasons are all about the cause the donor is giving to.  Other times it is the cause and other personal reasons, like to memorialize a loved one or to make a statement about something that is important to the you.  What is it that matters to you in your giving to our organization?  And what do you want to get out of it?”  Then you talk about all of that.

So questions are a very important way to foster listening.  Ask a lot of questions.  Start with broad topics, then narrow down to more specific ones.  And always build current questions on previous responses, which means you are taking notes about the conversations you have had.
How will you know you are not listening well?  Here are some clues: 

  1. You do all the talking.
  2. You interrupt.
  3. You avoid eye contact.
  4. You put words in the donor’s mouth.
  5. You cause the donor to become defensive by the way you speak to her.
  6. You argue before the donor finishes his or her case, which means you are paying more attention to how you will respond than to what the donor is saying.
  7. You digress with stories because you LOVE your stories and the sound of your voice.
  8. You overdo feedback.
  9. You make judgements.

Listening is also a state of the heart.  If you really care about the donor you will listen well.  If you don’t, and the whole thing is about the money, you won’t listen.  Catch yourself not listening and you have caught yourself not caring.  And that is a problem.  Not caring in major gifts is one of the most damaging things that can happen in the life of a MGO.
Make a decision to care and you will listen well.