YoungAssociates serves nonprofits in a variety of fields, including arts, history, and medicine


10 Points on Listening in Solicitations

More than 39 years of experience making solicitations in the nonprofit industry has produced this series of notes for emphatic listening in solicitations. These points are part of our firm’s basic face-to-face solicitation training program for staff and and volunteers.

Listen patiently to what the prospect has to say, even though you may believe it is wrong or irrelevant. Indicate simple acceptance, not necessarily agreement, by nodding or perhaps injecting an occasional “mm-hmm” or “I see.”
Try to understand the feeling the prospect is expressing, as well as the intellectual content. Most of us have difficulty talking clearly about our feelings, so it is important to pay careful attention particularly on matters of donor investment in your organization.
Restate the prospect’s feeling briefly, but accurately. At this stage, you simply serve as a mirror. Encourage the other person to continue talking. Occasionally make summary responses such as, “You think our organization does not have a realistic business plan” or “You feel your plan must be to preserve capital given your life expectancy.” In doing so, keep your tone neutral and try not to lead the person to your pet conclusions or funding opportunities.
Allow time for the discussion to continue without interruption, and try to separate the conversation from more official communication of organizational talking point and long-range plans. Do not make the conversation “authoritative;” you are learning.
Avoid arguments about facts; refrain from saying, “That is just not so,” “Hold on a minute, let’s look at the facts.” You will want to review evidence at the next meeting, but a review is irrelevant to how a person feels now.
When the prospect touches on a point you want to know more about, simply repeat his or her statement as a question. For instance, if s/he remarks, “You’ll never break even with his expense account,” you can probe by replying, “You say you don’t believe we can have a balanced budget with the President’s expense account?” With this encouragement s/he will probably expand on the previous statement.
Listen for what is not said, evasions of pertinent points or perhaps too-ready agreement with common clichés. Such an omission may be a clue to a bothersome fact the donor wishes were not true.
If the prospect/donor appears to genuinely want your viewpoint, be honest in your reply. In the listening stage, try to limit the expression of your views since these may influence or inhibit what the other person says.
BE QUIET. Let the other person talk. With time, prospects identify what they wish to support and under what conditions.
Being real smart can be kind of dumb. Don’t know EVERYTHING. Ask the donor to help you understand. Listening with questions may open up new avenues to agreement or giving that neither of you considered previously.