When my wife and I first found out we were going to become parents, I started collecting quotes and bits of advice that I wanted to share with our children as they grew up. Some are obvious, some silly and still others likely won’t have meaning for them until much later in life.
The other day, I found myself repeating to our youngest one of the nuggets I have shared on multiple occasions with both of our boys:
Instead of trying too hard to be interesting, put your energy into being interested.
I won’t say it is my favorite quote of all time, but the number of occasions on which it was apropos of sharing over the years clearly indicates that it is a worthy reminder. And, while I am unable to pinpoint who deserves attribution for the original idea – as evidenced in part by the variations here from Dale Carnegie and John Gardner – I am definitely an advocate of its practice.
“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?” -Advice from John Gardner to Jim Collins
While there has yet to be an occasion when I’ve offered up this advice to my boys regarding fundraising, it is absolutely a habit that can and should be embraced by every development professional–and fundraising volunteer for that matter.
We all know that we should be focused on our donors’ needs and on their agenda, but how often do we find ourselves in conversations where we are more focused on persuasion than on understanding? Whether it’s meeting someone at an event for the first time, a one-on-one cultivation meeting or a gift solicitation, there is little doubt that the most effective and engaging approach is to focus our energies on their interests/stories/needs.
If your focus is on being interested, you will have a much greater opportunity to Build Meaningful Connections. As part of our capital campaign preparation efforts, I once again have the honor of participating in engagement interviews for one of my current clients. It is an hour long conversation where I simply ask for their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. The conversations are designed to learn about what drives our donors and volunteers and how the organization’s work aligns (or doesn’t) with their personal priorities. And I can say with absolute certainty, that each of these encounters creates a deeper sense of connection to the organization because our donors feel valued and heard.
When you spend more of your time listening and trying to discover what matters most to your donor(s), the odds of experiencing a Successful Solicitation increase dramatically. If we come at our donors with an avalanche of information about our needs without ever finding out theirs, we all but guarantee that we will fail to inspire them to give a gift that matches the level of their personal philanthropic passions.
For consultants and other business professionals, the practice of being interested is also critical when you are working to Engage a New Client. Our team was recently awarded a new client contract after a fairly intense process. The CEO told us that one of the keys to our success was the fact that, to a person, everyone we talked with – from executives, to Board members to junior level staff members – they all said that we didn’t just come in an make a case for why we were the best, we listened and we were honestly interested in what they had to say.
So, the next time you’re preparing for an important conversation, make sure that you are focused on what the other person is most interested in. Making the conversation about their needs and their interests will undoubtedly result in you having more success in achieving your goals.
by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions