“Is it a robot talking?” or “was your English teacher always correcting your grammar?” Would someone say that about you when they hear you speak or read your writings?

Could be. It happens all the time.

When you sit down to write an email or pick up the phone to talk to your caseload donor, if you don’t watch yourself, you can get into a formal, tight way of talking and writing that is neither the real you, nor is it effective communication.

Why do we tend to do this? Jeff and I have been talking about it, and we’ve come up with the following reasons:

  1. We think it is what’s expected. We need to be business-like, professional, logical and formal. These aren’t bad expectations. They’re just missing emotion, relationship, nuance, spontaneity and a conversational style.
  2. We’re obeying language conventions. This is what we learned in school. It’s proper. And therefore, we must obey the rules. Rules are meant to be followed. The truth is that our verbal communication – our speaking – isn’t following those conventions. And if it is, we’re likely sounding formal, stiff and robotic.
  3. We want to be acceptable in our use of language. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s a fact that we’re all conscious about how we come across in our writing, speaking and relating. That’s normal. So that sensitivity will govern how we write and speak.

There may be other reasons, but I think you get the point – there are these voices in our head that prompt us to “do the right thing” when we write or speak. The problem is that doing the right thing may not be the right thing in your relationship with your caseload donors and, in Jeff’s and my experience, it usually isn’t – because the front-line fundraiser isn’t having real and authentic conversations and relationships with the donor.

I like the way Authentic Relating International defines the three levels of conversation. Here are some excerpts from their blog on the subject.

  • “The three levels of conversation represent a map of intimacy in connection with others and are a useful tool to identify the level of conversation and to guide a conversation toward deeper levels to cultivate more connection and intimacy between ourselves and others.


    The highest or most superficial level of conversation is the informational level, and typically feels the least intimate. This is where we talk about things and their place in time and space, exchange news and facts, and report on our experiences moving through and living in the objective, scientifically measured world. It’s what many people refer to as “small talk.” It’s almost all factual, practical, functional information that relates useful information from one person to another, devoid of emotional content.


    The next level of conversation is called the personal level, and it’s where we talk about how we feel about the content at the informational level.


    The relational level applies the identifying and naming of emotions from the personal level to the present moment and space. What’s happening now? How am I feeling in this moment? How are you feeling being here with me? Whenever we bring our attention to the present moment, we often experience greater enlivenment, engagement, and connection with others.

    The relational level of conversation is where the magic happens, where people feel the most seen and known, and where trust can be most greatly cultivated. Without the filters and guards we’ve been conditioned to hold between us and others, the relational level is where we actually want to be, where we experience the fullness of connection with another being.”

What Jeff and I are saying is that a good objective to have for communication with your donor is to move from the informational level to the personal and relational levels of communication. That’s where authenticity happens. And that’s good.

Take some time to look at how you write and speak to your donors, and then decide how you can be more personal and relational with each of them.