Second in a two-part series
When you think about it, there is no one way to be successful as a Mid-Level Officer. We all bring our own background, experiences, and personality to this work, which adds so much value to our relationships with donors. (You can read Jeff’s post on the key skills for extraordinary Mid-Level Officers here.)
Here at Veritus, we’ve been doing mid-level work for a number of years; and while we’ve found that there are many ways to be an extraordinary MLO, those top fundraisers all have some traits in common.
- They understand their own personality and how to interact with donors who have different personalities.
- They have a high level of emotional intelligence and are able to be present to the donor’s perspective and needs.
- They are active listeners and use facilitation skills to have genuine and meaningful conversations with donors.
So, let’s discuss each of these areas and how you can grow in each of these.
In mid-level fundraising, there’s no set personality that does better than others. But if you’re unaware of how you might come across, or you’re not listening and observing how your donor’s personality might play into things, then you’ll miss cues and the potential for a deeper connection with your donors.
Think about it like this. We’re all pretty accustomed to the idea that some people are Extroverts and some are Introverts. Extroverts tend to process their thoughts out loud, and they get energy from interacting with others. Introverts tend to process in their heads before talking about it, and they regain energy by spending time alone or quietly.
So, if you’re an Extrovert and your donor is an Introvert, you need to understand that your donor likely needs silent spaces to process the information you’re discussing. You also need to recognize that silence may be very uncomfortable for you, so you should resist the urge to fill up all the empty space. If you’re an introvert and your donor is an extrovert, you may want to explain your need to take moment before you speak, so your donor can feel more comfortable with your pauses.
Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, you can be great at tuning in to your donors, being an active listener, and being an effective relationship builder. And either personality has the potential to make it about them. So it’s important for you to explore this within yourself.
If you don’t know your personality, or you haven’t taken a test in a while, there are some great ones online that can give you some good insight. Once you have an idea of where you land, consider where some of your donors might be, and think about strategies you can use to give their personality space and to communicate clearly about how you operate.
Having emotional intelligence is absolutely critical in this work. Emotional intelligence is all about how you manage your own emotions and how you actually manage interacting with the emotions of others. (Now, I want to be clear that we are not saying that you should be manipulating the emotions of others. Instead, you should be tuned into what emotions might be coming up so that you can address those in a respectful and honoring way.)
There are five key areas that make up emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. People who have a really strong emotional intelligence are those individuals who are not just in control of their own emotions, but who are really excellent at sensing the emotions of other people. They typically manage difficult situations well and are, generally, more resilient.
I recommend taking this EQ quiz to get an idea of where you land in these five areas. Developing emotional intelligence is a long-game and will take focused effort to improve. But the first step is knowing where your strengths are and where you need to focus.
Let me tell you a quick story that I experienced that I think illustrates why emotional intelligence is so important in your work in mid-level. I recently gave a gift to an organization and received a call from a fundraiser asking to learn a bit more about me. The conversation quickly turned into more of an interrogation as the fundraiser tried to lead me toward exactly where he wanted me to go, rather than where I actually was. Instead of tuning into the fact that I was giving terse answers and not really engaging, he just kept pushing through his questions and I left the call feeling angry. I was caught off guard, and instead of saying directly that I didn’t appreciate his leading questions, I just got off the phone as quickly as I could.
So, if I could redo this conversation using my EQ skills, I’d be self-aware about the fact that I was upset and judging the other person. Instead of letting my emotions overwhelm me, I could have used them to inform me, and I would have spoken up. I could also have tuned into my empathy, realizing that he was likely doing this due to bad training, not because he’s a bad person. Lastly, instead of giving terse answers, I could have spoken up and asked for a real conversation.
Now, I know this may feel a bit different because I was the donor in this case, but it still illustrates how you can respond differently when you tap into your emotional intelligence.
What’s exciting about emotional intelligence is it that it gives you choice. And in that choice, you provide an opening for a different kind of conversation or relationship.
Emotional intelligence is the little niggle in your gut that tells you something may not be right or that you might need to ask a different kind of question, or that you may need to check in and realign with the donor. Imagine if the fundraiser who called me had checked in with me, recognizing that I wasn’t connecting to the conversation, instead of using his line of questions.
Active Listening and Facilitation
This area touches on the other two as well, but I feel it’s important to speak to this directly. Being an active listener is critical when working with a donor. If you leave a conversation having talked more than the donor did, something went wrong.
But you may find active listening to be a challenge because it’s not always something we’re encouraged to do. Often, we’re busy thinking of what to say next, processing what was just said, or trying to keep remembering things we want to come back to. What we lose when we do this is being present with the donor. And when we aren’t present, we can’t be aware of personalities or be tuned in to our emotional intelligence.
Active listening also ties into how you facilitate conversations. Do you have good open-ended questions planned to continue the conversation and go deeper with the donor? Are you listening for clues about other topics or areas you might be able to explore with the donor?
So, let’s say you’re talking to a donor on the phone, and after you asked some open-ended questions about why the donor started giving, they get quiet. You experience yourself getting tight and nervous about what that might mean. I know I’ve had these conversations where I got nervous and then started talking way too much to fill up the space. Instead, you could choose to manage yourself and check in with your donor. You could say, “What’s coming up for you in this conversation?” or simply, “Where are you right now?” With active listening, you get a clue, and you then have to use your language and skills to manage it in a way that builds a more authentic relationship.
If this all feels a little overwhelming or out of reach, know that this work takes time. You won’t be able to become strong in these key traits overnight. But if you’re committed to your work in mid-level, investing in your own growth in these areas is key.
Director of Learning