Before You Make the Ask: Listen Actively

Mar 23, 2016

Whether you’re in the midst of an appeal campaign or between events, the opportunity to speak with existing or potential donors is always around the corner. In fact, good fundraisers make time to chat with their donors as much as possible. If there’s one thing you take away from this month’s series, it should be that your donor is your partner and not just a checkbook. Talking to donors (or future donors) is how we learn more about ourselves as an organization, and the information you glean from these conversations will only sharpen your fundraising tools. Like the old adage goes: a day without learning is a day wasted.

One of the most important steps before you make the ask is to listen actively. Fundraising is a bit like match-making. It’s important that donors’ interests are matched to the needs of their community and the organizations that serve them. The only way to do this successfully is to ask the right questions and listen to what they have to say. Lasting donor relationships are built on shared values and common goals. Without this mutual interest, donors will lapse.

Conversely, too often organizations will bend themselves to fit the desires of someone holding the purse strings, and that’s not a good position to be in. You have to know when someone is a good fit for your organization, so there is a mutual benefit to listening and putting in the leg work.


What the conversation should look like

The purpose of a conversation is to learn what you can. So when you’re having that chat, remember: this is about them, not you. First, be sure to ask them about their passions, goals and what drives them. You’re looking to see where the commonalities lie between your organization and the donor as an individual. Be sure that the person you’re talking to feels heard.

Everyone knows what it’s like to be talking to someone who ignores what’s being said to them only to drone on about themselves. Don’t be the culprit. Translate what they said to you and repeat it back, seeking clarification that you got it right. This is an opportunity to learn from someone. If they told you a story about a triumph or achievement, ask them what lessons they took from the experience.

Why do all of this? You’re earning trust and making a connection. In this sense, you must go beyond the ask and focus on cultivating that relationship.

Bringing it back to “why”

As you may know, we’re huge fans of Simon Sinek’s Starting with Why philosophy. Communications that focus on why are mission driven as opposed to mission recitation, meaning that they go above and beyond what you do and what you offer.

When it’s your turn to speak, don’t talk about programs, mission statements, or meaningless outcomes like the simple number of constituents served. People can’t relate to what you do because it’s such a big job. What they can relate to, however, is what drives you to do it. In this case, talk about why the work matters. Mention the results your community has felt and the changes you’re responsible for. Most importantly, talk about why you do what you do because donors can relate to this! Your why is the same as theirs.

The Wrap Up

Listening to your donors creates a foundation for a lasting philanthropic relationship. Once a trusting partnership exists, the real work can begin. As you work together to make plans for their support of your organization, you will further the partnership in a way that grows their support. You’ll also learn ways to replicate this relationship to build a base of support for your organization for years to come.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Check Your “What” at the Door: The Case for Starting with “Why”
15 Nonprofit Lessons Learned in 2015
Before You Make the Ask: Build Relationships By Being Personal


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