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Becoming a better listener and knowing when to stop talking are essential skills for effective communication and fundraising.
It’s always a good idea to work on self-improvement. I’ve been surprised recently in meetings where senior level colleagues couldn’t seem to stop talking. In other words, they didn’t listen well. Yet, I’m sure they believe they are good listeners.
You may believe you’re a good listener too. But sometimes we misjudge ourselves. Plus, there’s always room for improvement.
12 Tips to Improve Your Listening and Fundraising Skills
With that in mind, here are 12 time-tested tips to help you become a better listener, and in turn, a better fundraiser.
1. Practice active listening.
During your next meeting, make a conscious effort to focus on the speaker, maintain eye contact, and nod or provide verbal cues to show your engagement. Whether in-person or on Zoom, practice will help you improve your listening.
2. Avoid interrupting.
Let the speaker finish their thoughts before responding or asking questions. Be aware of interruptions and apologize when you are the one interrupting.
3. Be patient.
Give the speaker enough time to express their ideas fully without rushing them. Take note of your desire to jump in with your own experiences or opinions, and resist the urge to do so when necessary.
4. Avoid distractions.
Put away your phone, turn off the TV, and minimize other potential interruptions. Silence notifications on your phone and computer.
5. Be empathetic.
Try to understand the speaker’s emotions and feelings to connect better with their message. Acknowledge what they’ve said and do what you can to make the other person feel like you heard them.
6. Ask open-ended questions.
Encourage the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts and experiences. Use phrases like, “tell me more.”
Repeat what you’ve heard in your own words to show you understood what was said and to expose any potential misunderstandings. You can preface your paraphrasing by saying something like:
I want to make sure I understand what you just said…
8. Eliminate assumptions.
Don’t assume you know what the speaker will say. Be open to new perspectives even if they don’t match your own. Focus on what they say, rather than what you think they’re going to say.
9. Manage your body language.
Maintain an open and relaxed posture to make the speaker feel comfortable sharing. Uncross your arms. Lean forward slightly. Try to mirror the body language and posture of the person sitting across from you.
10. Seek feedback.
Ask for input from friends or colleagues on how you can become a better listener. Let them know you are working on it and would really appreciate their input. Ask them for one thing you did well and one thing you could do better.
11. Practice silence.
Sometimes, the most effective response is no response at all. Give space for contemplation. Practice getting comfortable with longer stretches of silence than you normally allow. Make space for the other person to say more. Allow pauses in conversation, as they can be meaningful and give both parties time to reflect.
12. Don’t dominate.
Finally, be mindful of dominating the conversation. If you notice you’ve been talking too much, take a step back and encourage others to speak up. Say something like:
I’ve been talking for a while. What do you think about this?
Being a Better Listener Takes Some Effort
Remember that learning to be a better listener is an ongoing process. It requires self-awareness and consistent effort on your part. But it’s well worth the effort. By implementing these strategies, you can significantly improve your listening skills and develop a deeper understanding of others — particularly your donors.
In turn, this will help you better engage with donors, which is big key toward raising major gifts. People give to others when they feel heard and understood.
There’s a popular expression in fundraising — the idea of listening your way to a gift. If you keep listening, you’ll learn why your donors care, and why they might give more to your cause.
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