Everyday conversation in the United States begins with a customary greeting that goes something like this…
“Hi! How are you doing?”
“Fine. How are you doing?”
“Fine. Life is very busy. Have a great day!”
“Yeah, you too!”
This is often where the communication ends, if it goes this far at all. The greeting is automatic; listening–really listening–is rarely involved. Research, however, indicates adults spend about 80% of their daily time communicating, with 93% being non-verbal communication. It is estimated that adults engage in listening about 45% of the time. This is the same proportion of listening time estimated in the 1929 research by Dr. Paul Rankin.
Interestingly enough, with the rise of mass media communication between 1950 and 1980, the amount of listening time increased to over 50%. Since then, the advent of email and social networking has caused a slight increase in reading and writing over listening.
Seasoned fundraising consultant and author, Mal Warwick underscores the importance of listening in fundraising:
Is she a good listener? I’ve never met a fundraiser who was truly successful without being a dedicated and effective listener. In face-to-face solicitations, listening is essential to understand the way that a donor’s personal values and interests might be linked to a particular project. But listening is just as effective in direct mail, telefundraising, or other forms of direct response: how else could she really come to understand what a project or issue is about, or what motivates donors?
In congregational fundraising, face-to-face conversations are an effective way to build relationships and financial support. Strong relationships are central to a healthy and flourishing community. Money and energy flow in community.
Those who are initiating the conversations on the part of the organization must practice active listening, which is an essential practice in fundraising and annual stewardship. One place to start is to find out more about what matters most to the prospective giver, listening for ways they connect with the mission and priorities of your congregation. When we ask questions that elicit the positive emotions an individual has about the congregation and its faith values, the more likely he or she will commit to financial support. Only after you listen and learn can you connect the person’s values, commitment, and monetary resources into a compelling reason to give. This practice of intentional and positive communication is called Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry should be a central aspect and practice in congregational stewardship and fundraising.
Listening Tips for Congregational Stewards and Fundraisers:
- Focus on the people and relationships–learn what is important to them about their involvement, their interests, priorities, and values.
- Listen attentively–let them know they are worthy of your attention and a valued part of the community.
- Ask questions that elicit positive feelings about the congregation and the faith values–listen carefully for ways to explicitly connect their positive energy, time, and resources to advancing the mission and potential of the organization.
- Be mindful that there are generational differences, theological perspectives, and tenure of membership factors that may affect your ability to listen and identify with those you talk with–be open to new perspectives and ask for clarification.
- Take notes on key points for follow up–let them know their input is valued and will be taken into consideration.
- Ask for their contributions and commitment, then allow time for them to respond.
- Express appreciation–Thank!
- Follow up on any key points and report back–this builds trust and accountability.
- Thank again.
Resources to Develop Listening Skills for Fundraising:
Holden Leadership Center. Active Listening. http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/skills/active_listening http://leadership.uoregon.edu/upload/files/tip_sheets/active_listening.pdf
Warwick, Mal. Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth from Your Fundraising Staff? 2005. Mal Warwick Associates. http://www.malwarwick.com/
Wilson, Thomas D. Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners. 2008. John Wiley & Son. An excerpt from the book devoted to the importance of listening in fundraising is found on the Association of Fundraising Professionals: http://www.afpnet.org/ResourceCenter/
Appreciative Inquiry Resources:
Central East Regional Group (CERG). Stewardship for the 21st Century. http://www.sld.uua.org/pdfs/2011/SLDStewardshipFor21stCentury.pdf
Florida District UUA. Rev. Kenn Hurto. Appreciative Inquiry: The Power of Positive Questions http://www.floridadistrict.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/3d-Tue-Webinar-March-2010-Appreciative-Inquiry.pdf
UUA Congregational Stewardship Services. http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml