Finding Time to Listen?

Twelve months. Fifty-two weeks. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. 31,536,000 seconds. No matter which measurement instrument you count with, that's a lot of time in one calendar year!  The question is, what are you doing with it?

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, we live by our annual calendars and we fill them up with a lot of important stuff.  We start planning for the next big gala almost immediately after we finished wrapping up the last one (or we should).  We schedule our year-end appeal letters to hit mailboxes in mid to late November so they don't get lost in the rush of holiday cards, Black Friday promotions and party invitations.  We rush to get our proposals ready in time for the big foundation's quarterly grant deadline.  We scramble at the end of our fiscal year to close those last few gifts to meet our annual goals.  

No doubt about it, having an organized schedule, being on time for appointments, and meeting deadlines are important necessities for fundraising success.  It drives much of the important revenue generating work that is the lifeblood of so many organizations.  So kudos to everyone in the development office who is keeping you appropriately scheduled and attentive to pending deadlines.  

But I also want to give a shoutout to the folks on your team who are carving out some less scheduled time to visit with the couple who just donated to the local hospice in honor of the nurses providing end of life care to their adult child; or having coffee with the soccer mom who over-spent for one of your cheesier silent auction items and bidding up several of her friends to help pay for respite care for parents of children with special needs; or taking a walk with the retired Army Colonel who recently challenged 10 of his fellow retired officers to join him in sponsoring the building of a new home for a disabled veteran; or having dinner with the widow who recently, and with no fanfare, informed your agency of the special bequest she is making to fund scholarships for children from her hometown.  

We often talk about the need to share our story with our donors.  I think it's equally important that we learn to be good listeners to the stories of our donors. In my quarter-plus century working with nonprofits, I have met some fascinating people with great stories about their children, their business accomplishments, their distinguished military careers and their travels around the globe.  I have heard what it was like being dropped off at the orphanage, learning to love peanut butter and molasses sandwiches, and growing up with several hundred other orphans as your brothers and sisters.  Donors have shared inspiring stories about fighting their way out of abusive relationships, overcoming disabilities, and surviving cancer.

I have learned that personal experiences are a big part of what shapes the size and scope of one's philanthropy.  These stories help us understand the passions and motivations of people wanting to help out, give back, pay it forward, or find some small way to make a difference in their community and in the lives of others.  

For those of you feeling over-scheduled, over-booked and pressured by the deadlines you are facing, I challenge you to carve out a few minutes, or an hour, or even a few days in the next month and call on some of those special donors in your organization.  For a few minutes, forget about the proposal you are drafting for them or the event you will soon be asking them to chair.  Instead, just sit and listen and learn a little bit about who they are, where they come from, who they are related to, what they do for fun, who inspires them, and why the give the way they do.  Surely you have enough time for a good story or two.  

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