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My Five Takeaways From a Year of Listening

Kathy LeMay


Synopsis: After years of speaking a lot, I decided to spend 2017 listening more. I spent hundreds of hours listening and in being silent I learned more than in any other year of my life.

May 2, 2018 — 

 As a public speaker, coach and trainer, I talk. A lot. In each of these roles this aptitude is essential. I am asked for advice, expertise and to share my observations about the times in which we live and what it means for the social sector. This year however, I felt a pull to talk less and listen more. In 2017, I spent hundreds of hours of listneing. I know I am a decent talker; I was no longer sure I was a good listener. In being silent and asking questions not for my own self-interest but to help others uncover and discover their purpose and passions, I learned more than in any other year of my life. I am so happy toshare with you My Five Takeaways From a Year of Listening: how they have powerfully impacted my fundraising leadership and how they can help you become more successful in 2018 than ever before.

What could you learn from a year of listening?

“I felt a pull to talk less and listen more. In 2017, I spent hundreds of hours of listneing. I know I am a decent talker; I was no longer sure I was a good listener. In being silent and asking questions not for my own self-interest but to help others uncover and discover their purpose and passions.”

1. Listening will make you more knowledgeable. I have learned things this year that I did not know I did not know. I know more thoroughly understand the motivations of donor giving, what prevents donors from taking a leap with an organization and what has a donor saying "this is where I make my mark".

 I understand better why donors in the face of growing and demanding challenges sometimes pull back and give less. Recently a fundraiser said to me, "The needs of our clients have never been stronger and suddenly a donor has stopped communicating with us." I knew the donor they were talking about. In fact I had connected with and listened to her a month earlier. She started by sharing that she had made her commitments and didn't want to make more. I asked how that decision felt. At first she said, "It's good. It's what I need to do." I stayed quiet and allowed her to keep sharing what was on her mind. By the end of the conversation she said, "I can give more and I'd like to. I'm overwhelmed."

 When you listen you hear what's beyond the first words said to you. Fundraisers can hear a no and feel rejection or take it personally or even imagine the donor no longer cares. If you listen you'll discover that what is true for you is true for most: these are overwhelming times. Take the time to listen and you may just forge the kind of relationship where we face the overwhelm together.

2. Listening will dramatically improve your fundraising. At a training in Victoria, Canada this past November a wonderful fundraiser said, "Twenty five years in fundraising? How are you not burnt out?" Burn out and fatigue lend to decreased success in fundraising. Listening to donors, listening to community members, listening to your colleagues will give your mind a break from having to problem solve. Your creativity will emerge when you ask questions and listen. I believe my ongoing success in fundraising is because I listen. I'm not trying to force a gift. I'm trying to discover if there is a match with a donor and an organization. Sometimes there isn't. When there is, I am there to help it unfold organically and easily. This doesn't mean I don't ask for a gift. This means I make sure I listen to know it's the right time to create a philanthropic invitation for a donor. Radically listen and you will raise more money than ever before.

3. Listening will widen your world view. It may be fair to say that we're living in a time when widening your worldview may be a helpful tool. It's helpful to each of us on a macro level. It's also smart for fundraisers. Widening your world increases your capacity to hear others' thinking about solutions to the social problems of our time. When you listen to others' ideas about social change and funding this critical work you grow your core capacity to be on the front lines of solution-making. You move into a place where creativity and sharp, incisive thinking inform your own leadership. The best fundraisers in the world listen to a range of solutions and world views.

 This is not to say that we give audience to those who speak unkindly, disrespectfully or cruelly about different populations of people. What widening your world view means is understanding that great ideas are born from radically listening to the stakeholders in an organization. They will give you solutions you hadn't thought of and help you move forward powerfully with funding the best and most important work of our time.

4. Listening will help you become someone's trusted colleague. In 2017 the kindest compliment I received was an email from a dear colleague. He knew I would be traveling to his city for a conference. He reached out just prior to the conference with this note: "I know you will be busy with the conference. I am wondering if you may have a few minutes on your calendar. I am up against a difficult situation and could use your wise counsel." To know that my time spent listening and asking questions created a trusted relationship was a gift. In this world of social change, we can be this to one another. In 2017 I learned that by listening I dramatically improved the quality of the relationships with my colleagues.

 5. People know what they're seeking. They need room to explore, uncover and discover. On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I spent hours with some of the most impressive change agents of our time: smart, passionate, caring women asking themselves: "How can I make a difference?"

 I started by asking them each this question: "Of all the organizations you give to and are involved in, which right now is the most meaningful?" Each then spoke for forty-five minutes to an hour. One woman was surprised that the most meaningful experience was not coming from the largest gift that she made but from the smallest gift with the most "human contact". Nearly an hour into sharing she said, "As I've talked this through I'm realizing that I'm making the most meaningful difference when there is connection, creativity and community. I hadn't known that until I started talking it aloud."

 Listening is quiet but it begins with a genuine curiosity to learn, guide and help others uncover their best highest purpose. May 2018 be a year of listening for each of us as we work to create the world we know is possible. 


*Originally posted on Kathy LeMay's LinkedIn: My Five Takeaways From a Year of Listening


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