Listen Up!

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I recently took my 81 year old mother to the doctor, and, as I sat in the exam room with my her and our family doctor (yes, my mother, my sister and my children all go to the same physician) I was moved by the strong connection that my mother has with our doctor.  Our doctor is not only seasoned in her profession, but she is genuinely warm and kind, and one of the best listeners that I’ve ever met.

As a member of the sandwich generation – like many of us, I am managing my own household of children but I’m also finding that my aging parents need more of my time and attention.  Not only is this a change for me, but, also for my mom.  She has always been and is still is a fiercely independent woman…having emigrated from Germany  to the US  in her late 20’s with a one-way boat ticket back to Germany and a few hundred dollars in her pocket just in case this didn’t work out.

Navigating these new waters can be challenging…and we are all learning as we go.  It is a delicate balance…how much do I step in? Am a good listener?  In what ways can I help my mother feel that she is in charge and can make her own decisions?

I thought about this visit recently and how it ties to the work that we do as development professionals.  Do we listen to our donors?  Do we make our donors feel empowered and engaged in the work that they are supporting? Do they feel invested?

I recently visited with a donor of one of my clients and I asked her how she became involved with this particular agency.  She shared some of her personal stories and I learned a lot about why she has continued her support.  I learned some things that I hadn’t known before that would be key for the next time she is approached for a gift.  The most important thing I did during that one hour meeting was to listen.  I kept my mouth shut.  When I opened it, I told her some new things that have happened because of her generosity.  I shared some personal stories of clients and how they benefited from the agency.

Sometimes we get so busy with “reporting the news” to our donors that we forget to simply sit back and really listen to the things they want to share with us.  Our family doctor reminded me through her actions that listening is critical to building and maintaining relationships in our personal lives as well as in our lives as development professionals.  So, the next time you schedule a visit or a phone call with a donor, make a concerted effort to… sit back and listen.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

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