Institute for Charitable Giving

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What Makes a Great Fundraiser Great?

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Of all the talents, skills, and characteristics a fundraiser can bring to the profession, the mightiest is the ability to listen.

You perhaps know the definition of an anagram. It means two words that have different meaning but contain precisely the same letters. Take the words listen and silent. Is it not entirely proper that these two would be an important anagram?

A question not asked is a door not opened. The problem is that so many listen to respond instead of to gain information. That’s an important distinction.

Listening is not passive. Effective listening requires a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, and empathy to the task.

You listen as if you are hard of hearing. When you listen, you honor a person. You convince. You motivate.

If you do all the talking, you become the most important person in the room. But you don’t learn anything about the other person. You get no giving clues. There is no ownership or empowerment. You dominate the conversation and are in the spotlight.

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. 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.”

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. Best of all, listening is not inherent. It is a skill you can learn.

—From Born to Raise by Jerold Panas

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You know listening is critical in fundraising, but how much should you listen? How do you make sure you spend your time listening? As Jerry says, “no one ever listens themselves out of a gift.”



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