Stacey Schwab, Account Director  ●  5/17/2021

Listen to Donors Like You Would Listen to Your Grandparents

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In this life, all anyone wants is to be validated.  To be heard.  And when I say “heard,” I mean for you to actively listen to them.

When you think about who you could listen to all day long, who comes to mind?  For me, that’s an easy answer — my paternal grandmother, Mona Pearson Schwab, who we grandkids called “Grandmother.”

Grandmother and Granddaddy lived on a ranch in a tiny town in Texas called Darrouzett — smack dab (that’s a phrase she’d use) in the panhandle of Texas.  Every morning, she would make the biggest breakfast spread you’d ever seen — all before the sun came up.  She loved riding horses, scrapbooking, and cooking (my mom still makes “Grandmother’s gravy” every Thanksgiving) — but most of all, she loved to be with her grandkids.

Little did she know we loved to be with her even more — especially if we had the good fortune to be in the kitchen while she was baking and telling stories of growing up on the land her father homesteaded near Lamar, Colorado.

Stories of training wild mustangs, raising chickens, and pointing out who we favored looks-wise on the Pearson side of the family.  This is where I learned that grandparents are a wealth of knowledge — but the key is really listening to them.

This same rule applies to donors.  When they feel heard, that builds understanding, trust, and appreciation, and they may be more open to supporting your organization.

If you remember just these four things, you can help build that trust and develop a lifelong donor:

  1. Listen Patiently
    Every individual is unique.  No two donors are alike — they are unique in deciding how and when to give their donations.  You may be surprised by the direction a conversation about a donor’s commitment can go.  Really listen to understand, not just to pause until it’s your turn to talk.
  2. Listen with Intuition
    Most donors don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your charitable organization.  So when they make a suggestion, think about the intention behind the feedback.  Can you identify what types of programs and services they support and how those align with what your organization offers?
  3. Listen to Nonverbal Cues
    The majority of direct communication is nonverbal.  We glean a great deal of information about our donors without them saying a word.  Even over the telephone, you can learn a lot more just from a person’s tone of voice than from anything that’s actually said.

    When you are face-to face, you can detect if someone’s happy, bored, excited, or even annoyed from their overall facial expression, their gaze or just the slope of their shoulders.

    Remember that words only convey a fraction of the overall message.
  4. Listen Reflectively
    When you’re listening to your donor, mirror their information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points.  Reflecting is an active-listening technique that indicates that you and your counterpart are on the same page.  For example, your donor might tell you, “I have such a passion for The Salvation Army because I attended their camps as a child.  It’s where I learned how to build a campfire, catch bass fish, and even run in a potato sack!  That’s why I want my gifts to go towards your camp programs.”

    To paraphrase, you could say, “I’m so glad you were able to experience our camp programs!  We’ll be sure to send you information and updates on our current camp programs and how you can help support them!”

By adding even one of these attributes to your listening style, you’ll build deeper relationships with your donors.



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