Before Asking for Money–Listen!


Everyday conversation in the United States begins with a customary greeting that goes something like…

listening ear child

“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 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 gift stonesinitiating 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 Organizational 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 organization 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.

Wishing you success and prosperity~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2

Laurel signature

Resources to Develop Listening Skills for Fundraising:

Warwick, Mal.  Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth from Your Fundraising Staff? 2005.  Mal Warwick Associates.

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:

Holiday Giving–Five Ways to Experience the Spirit of Generosity this Season

2012-07-06 14.05.54 The Holiday Season at its best is filled with joyful giving, loving relationships, and spirited celebration. At least this is what our favorite Christmas music, old movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and December TV commercials tell us. We hold onto these warm sounds and images, in part because they inspire hope in our lives and help us adjust our attitudes toward others in positive ways. However, our super-charged consumer culture creates intense pressure to spend, entertain, and give gifts, sometimes heightening our expectations to idealized proportions. This can add stress to our lives and begin to seem out of control and overwhelming for many of us. But, if we can pause for a moment to reflect, we have the opportunity to experience moments of true generosity and the spirit of the season.

Five ways experience the spirit of generosity during the Holidays:

1) Experience Gratitude—Take some time to reflect on the people and things in your life for which you are grateful. This is easier said than done during the busy-ness of holiday preparations, but it can actually help relieve some stress and bring a fresh perspective. Start by taking a deep breath, close your eyes, push the negative, painful thoughts out of the way to focus on the simplest gifts received, then expand from there: a smile, a cheerful greeting, finding a shiny coin or lost item, cuddling with a pet, a hug from a loved one….

2) First Things FirstKnow who and what is most important to you and adjust your expenditures of time and energy accordingly. Our jobs, homes, and other tasks and responsibilities require our attention, to be sure. However, no amount of time spent shopping, decorating, cooking, or cleaning is more important than time with your loved ones, friends, and time for yourself. 

3) Values GivingYour giving should clearly align and demonstrate your deepest held values in harmony with your gift recipient’s whenever possible. In addition to giving someone a tangible item, think creatively, and have fun connecting values with gift giving. Donner all ears

Is your sister an animal lover? Make a donation to her local humane shelter in her honor.

Does your mother like to reuse and recycle? Get a gift certificate to her local thrift shop.


Is your friend experiencing illness or stressful life circumstances?  Offer to do some household chores or make her a cup of tea and visit a while.

Has your father devoted years of service to his church board? Create a book of pictures and mementos and/or make a gift to his church in honor of his years of service.

4) Receive WellThe spirit of generosity is nurtured early in our lives through our experiences of receiving, initially through the love and attention of a trusted caregiver. Our attitudes about giving and generosity are largely shaped by our family culture and religious teachings. These are complex messages and not always positive. It is not uncommon to feel unworthy of someone’s gift, or awkward about receiving a gift with nothing to give in return. In most cases, those giving the gift experience pleasure in doing so. Practice gracious receiving and watch someone’s eyes light up!

5) ThankRemember to express appreciation and gratitude for the gifts that bless your life, whether they may be simple and small, elaborate and substantial, or somewhere in between. GivingThanks-floral

My wish for you is that, together, we help expand awareness about the power of philanthropy and giving as a means of transforming our world and the lives of its inhabitants. I have found that happens one choice at a time, one act of giving at a time, one person at a time.

May it be so for you and yours this season of giving and light!


Giving Speaks volumes about life, love, and community~

Fundraising Events—Money Makers or Energy Drainers?

people on pile of money

Do you look forward to your annual fundraising events, or are you exhausted by the thought of them?

Are your event volunteer sign up sheets full of names or blank spaces?

Is your budget so dependent on your fundraising events that if you don’t make the goal you must make serious cuts in expenditures?

Most congregations and charitable organizations conduct at least one major fundraising event annually. A good many hold six or more events every year, sometimes running two or more concurrently. Often these events have been happening for several decades and are considered an essential part of the organization’s funding, no matter what and no matter how much money is raised.

“It’s just what we always do. We depend on this event to make our budget.”

hands out for moneyFor example, when I am visiting a congregation, it is not unusual for me to hear announcements during the service for the youth group’s fundraising luncheon that afternoon, urgent pleas for donations of goods and services to the auction next week, and requests for support of the local soup kitchen. This may be followed by the offering which will be shared with a worthy cause and a dismal update on the annual pledge campaign. After the service, I go to the fellowship hour, where there is a basket out for contributing to defray the costs of coffee, a table for selling tee shirts or fair trade products, and bulletin boards with posters and appeals for all of the above. These may all be worthy requests for support, but a fundraising culture this diffuse can lead to serious “donor fatigue” on the part of the congregants. The people lose a clear sense of the mission and are overwhelmed with the barrage of requests. No wonder many congregations struggle with stewardship and finding energized people to run their annual stewardship campaigns and pledge drives.

What if fundraising events were focused on mission, the needs of the wider community, and for social justice?

How might your congregation could transform the culture of giving and fundraising activities? Consider the following suggestions…

  • A master fundraising plan will be developed annually by the Stewardship Team and key staff leaders and approved by the governing board. All funds raised must be handled and accounted for in accordance with the policies established by the board.
  • Each fundraising activity or event will clearly reflects the mission, vision, goals/ends of the organization—or it won’t happen.
  • A timeline is created with the activities and events intentionally spread out over the course of the year, allowing ample time for advanced planning and publicity (and recovery time).
  • Each fundraising event is planned and conducted by a competent team of volunteers who work in collaboration with the appropriate staff, board, and committees. Avoid volunteer burnout by grooming leaders to take the reins after two or three years.
  • A significant portion—if not all—of the funds raised will be used for the ministries and outreach activities of the congregation that will directly benefit the surrounding community and society at large.
  • Careful record-keeping should be expected, with timely reports to the financial leaders and administrative staff. All funds should be accounted for and processed through the congregation’s established systems.
  • Every fundraising activity will be thoroughly evaluated for its qualitative benefits (strengthening relationships, community-building, awareness-raising) and return on the investment of staff/volunteer time, supply and equipment cost, and amount of money raised. If the benefits and dollar amounts do not produce a significant offset to the investments, consider modifying or eliminating it in the future.
  • Spread the affirmations around as much as the work. Thank everyone involved in the event’s success and share the story of making a difference.
  • Have fun along the way! Fundraising activities are enjoyable and meaningful at their best.

Let’s use this forum as a way to share your most successful fundraising event experiences and ideas for transforming the fundraising culture in our congregations. You are invited to share your stories as comments here on Giving Speaks, or via email to

 sparks flying

Related Resources:

Renee Herrell’s Blog. Caution: Men in Heels. Oct. 2009. This post features a fun and creative fundraising event and the pros and cons of charitable events for fundraisers to consider.