AtoZ Challenge: L is for Listen to Your Community — Janet Cobb Consulting
A few months ago, I realized “Narcissa,” whom I’d considered a friend, did just that. Each time we got together, she shared story after story about her life and why she knew more than those around her. When I first noticed, I thought maybe it was a fluke. The last time we got together, I took closer note. During our two hours together, I barely spoke, and never once did she initiate interest in what was happening in my life. Of course, we all lend a listening ear when a friend is in need or simply needs a sounding board from time to time. But, if every time you get together, the conversation (and the universe) seems to revolve around them, you might begin to wonder. You can’t get a word in edgewise, and you aren’t sure your presence is even noticed or appreciated. Many organizations try to entice donors by talking about all their excellent programs. They throw out statistics, making sure those who visit their website, read their emails or see their social media posts know how credible and reliable they are and how deserving they are of money. Demonstrating your solutions are effective and reporting positive impact is important, but it does little to honor your community.
When you brag too much about your organization, you risk sounding like Narcissa. ( Promised Land, The 5th Commandment)
Even if your communications aren’t filled with bragging about yourself — and you write beautifully written donor-centric communications, making it all about the donor OR you write community-centric communications filled with stories of empowered community members — you are still doing all the talking.
So — how do you LISTEN to your community?
I once worked briefly with an organization that conducted exit interviews with every family that had participated in their shelter and financial subsistence programs to avoid homelessness when they were on the brink. More than 85% said they’d prefer to “live” in one shelter during the 12-week program instead of moving each week as was customary. Despite this overwhelming preference, the leadership refused to explore this option as a possibility because they believed volunteers preferred this model.
Apart from this “volunteer-centric” approach being lopsided, they’d never actually surveyed volunteers to find out if this was true either.
When was the last time you — as a fundraiser — listened to the community being served? This doesn’t mean you have to ask intrusive questions or interview folx while they are in the midst of crisis. But have you considered how to better understand their needs and wishes? Have you invited representation of community members to join your board or leadership team in any way? Do you spend time being with and learning from those being served? They might be the hungry, the homeless, the jobless or the ill. They might be audience members, alumni, or current members of your dance, performing arts, or musical productions.
Regardless of who benefits from your programs or services, you’ll be a much better fundraiser and changemaker if you learn to listen to the community.
When was the last time you picked up the phone to speak with a board member, volunteer, or donor about WHY they are involved with the work you do? Have you asked what inspires them? What motivates them? Why the work matters? Have you conducted surveys?
On social media, do you follow accounts that would provide insight into the community who cares about what you care about? Are you learning from what you see or read that could apply to your situation? Have you rejected the “we’re different” mindset that precludes an open-mind to new ideas or solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve?
Remember — you aren’t engaging in monologue. You’re building relationships with people who care about what you care about — to make the world a better place. When we listen, we admit that we may not know everything and that we can learn and grow.
When was the last time you listened to your community?
Originally published at https://jcobbconsulting.com on March 28, 2021.