Peter Heller

The Secret to Top-Level Fundraising Success: Listen to Your Donors

By Peter Heller

I know you’ve done great things in your professional life.

You should have people in your life who will listen to all the glorious details. It’s vital to celebrate your success and to be acknowledged for what you’ve accomplished.

But, if you are a fundraiser, don’t waste precious time gabbing on about your accomplishments with your donors and prospects.

Your job is to double down on listening. 

I learned this lesson the hard way. Here’s what happened….

When I was starting out as a fundraiser at Columbia University, I had a meeting with an alumnus/prospect and a senior university dean. The dean was new to his role. The goal of the meeting was for the dean to establish a relationship with the alumnus which would then lead to more involvement and a gift solicitation.

They sat facing each other on either side of a long table, while I sat at the far end observing their memorable exchange. 

It was like proud rockets were being launched from either side, one after the other, soaring higher and higher. The dean and the prospect were sure proud of their accomplishments.

“I’ve done this thing,” said the alumnus.

“I’ve also done that thing and this other thing,” said the dean.

On it went. A battle of the egos.

Their conversation remained friendly, but they weren’t really connecting. By the end of the meeting, we were no closer to developing a close relationship, let alone securing a gift.

So, aside from the obvious, what went wrong? 

The dean’s job was to listen to the alumnus and celebrate his accomplishments, not compete with them.

If you truly listen to your prospect, you will not only learn about the person, but you will also give them the opportunity to be heard — something increasingly rare today, and a secret to top-level fundraising success.

And so it goes, listening builds a relationship, which leads to much better results when you ask for a significant gift, which, in turn, continues to build your relationship. 

It all starts with genuinely listening.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Read more fundraising secrets in the Heller Fundraising Group blog, “The Whisper In The Ear Strategy”:

Peter Heller is the Founder of Heller Fundraising Group, a New York City-based fundraising consulting firm that works with local, national and international nonprofits on capital campaigns.

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