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August 15, 2020
 
Engage More Fully with Donors through Mindful Listening
By Diane Remin

Diane Remin
Diane Remin
In this time of COVID-19, when stress and anxiety are high, listening in a way that makes the speaker feel appreciated and cared for has never been more valuable – a skill that is especially important when connecting with donors, who are receiving an unprecedented number of calls.

When the person with whom you are communicating is a donor, fulfilling conversations serve multiple roles:
  • First and foremost, you have a relationship at some level with each of your donors and presumably wish them well, as fellow travelers;

  • Conversations with your donors right now are an investment in the future of your organization—donors remember who reached out in a caring way;

  • Conversation is an entryway into allowing donors who can and want to help you to be able to do so. Once you have ascertained that the donor is alright, you can see if your donor would like to discuss what your organization is doing in response to coronavirus and learn where they might be able to help.
You may be familiar with listening techniques such as observing body language or mirroring the person to whom you are listening in terms of body position or breathing (see “limbic synchrony” for more on that one) to build rapport and connection. A mindful listening practice is an “and,” not an “or.”

What mindfulness brings to listening

Mindfulness is defined here as paying attention to what is happening right now, in the moment—nonjudgmentally.

As the listener, you are not trying to:
> Provide solutions or advice

> Fix anything (or anyone)

> Correct

> Imagine your own story – what similar experience you have had

> Be liked
You are not trying to do anything at all – other than listen, nonjudgmentally. (This is not as easy as it sounds!)

But when you do it, the person to whom you are listening feels deeply attended to.

For example: When a donor is sharing their story about how coronavirus is affecting them, it’s easy to start thinking about how the virus is impacting your life—and gearing up to jump-in and share your experience. Instead, re-focus on the donor and the donor’s story.

The Mindful Listening Practice
We’re going to use a basic mindfulness technique that is also widely used as part of mindfulness meditation practice, if you happen to be familiar with that.
Step 1: Set an intention to give the speaker your full attention and to listen nonjudgmentally.

Step 2: When you find your mind wandering (as it invariably will), return to your intention to listen, nonjudgmentally #147; being certain to be kind to yourself!

Step 3: Repeat, repeat, and repeat. The “practice” is on the return to your intention. You are literally training your brain every time you notice your mind wandering and return to paying full attention to the speaker. You are enhancing your ability to stay aware and focused. And you will get better at it, slowly. The goal is not to command your mind not to wander. All minds wander. The goal is to notice when your mind is wandering and return to paying attention – being kind to yourself along the way.

If you are on a videoconference, you can acknowledge that you are listening through appropriate body language, like the nodding of the head. On the phone, we are accustomed to making the appropriate “listening grunts”... uh-huh, mmmm,...

For the speaker, being listened to in this way creates deep feelings of appreciation, acceptance and connection.

And yes, mindful listening is equally effective for conversations with staff, friends, and family. In the case of difficult conversations, providing a partner or a team with the chance to be heard, mindfully, goes a long way in creating flexibility – a willingness to listen to other perspectives.

Mindful listening also offers an opportunity to practice patience. As with virtually everything in life we’d like to improve upon, it takes practice!

Diane Remin is the founder and president of MajorDonors.com, which gives small-to-mid-sized nonprofits everything they need to launch major gift program or run a capital campaign. Email her at diane@majordonors.com; Twitter @DianeRemin. © 2020. MajorDonors.com.
May 2020
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