Institute for Charitable Giving

Listen Carefully

You will hear a gift. You perhaps know the definition of an anagram. It means two words that have different meaning but contain precisely the same letters.

A good example of an anagram are the words listen and silent. Is it not entirely proper that these two would be an important anagram?

All of the communication skills are valued. You treasure verbal competency. That is what helps motivate prospective donors to action. But these are the sending elements of communication.

The most important of the communication faculties by far is that of listening. It is truly listening that inspires the gift.

I’m referring to meaningful, creative silence. You listen with your eyes. You listen with your entire body.

Listening is not passive. It requires a tremendous amount of energy.

You know that if you give others what they want, you will get what you want. No other skill is as important as listening. Vartan Gregorian is the former head of the New York Public Library, former president of Brown University, and now head of the Carnegie Corporation. He tells me: “I think that the ability to communicate is essential in being a great fundraiser. I am fortunate in that I feel I’m a good speaker. As a matter of fact, a very good speaker.

“I can be persuasive. I can inspire. But most of all, the reason I feel I am successful in fundraising is that I am an unbelievably good listener.”

For some in this field, there appears no evidence, empirical or otherwise, that the tongue is connected to the brain. For many in the field, it’s hard to be quiet. It seems not to be in our nature to listen.

You have heard about people who talk too much. But you have never heard of anyone who listens too much. In fundraising, it is impossible to listen too much. It is what wins the gift. Your job is to listen so intently that you listen as if you are hard of hearing.


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