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Your Most Valuable Quality During Year-End By Shelley Cochrane

Keep the Right Focus at Year-End

The year-end giving season is a busy time when development staff works fast and furiously to keep donor processes running smoothly. Rightly, you concentrate on shoring up data entry processes, fixing payment processing issues, updating website pages, and making address changes. These processes are critical.

What Matters Most

But the reason these changes are important is that behind each transaction is a person who voluntarily gives of their financial resources to support the work you do. So when a donor contacts you with an issue—even in the busiest of moments in your workday—do you succumb to the temptation to quickly address their concern . . . or do you take the time to LISTEN?

Listen Closely

These connections are crucial—because your donors give out of a desire to make the world a better place, and they’re choosing to do it through you. So take the opportunity to listen. Listen. Listen to the person whose wife got mad he donated and demands he gets their money back; or the one who’s afraid he was relegated to the lapsed category and forgotten. Listen to the story of the 9-year-old who planned her hot chocolate fundraiser to help kids, but her mom isn’t sure whom to list as the donor when she’s sending the check.

Make The Time

Make the time—despite the busyness—to listen to their stories, to their hearts, even while resolving a complaint. Because, in truth, you’re asking the same of your donors with each appeal you send. While cooking dinner, checking on Grandma, trying to re-schedule an orthodontist appointment for the third time, your communication arrives and interrupts them—and you’re asking them to drop everything to make a gift. They may not have time for you, but how often is it that they make time anyway?

So yes, make every effort to ensure your systems are serving donors well. But be intentional in taking every opportunity to listen while you serve them.

Because listening leads to understanding, and understanding strengthens donor relationships. Thriving nonprofits have strong donor relationships.


Shelley Cochrane is the Vice President of Strategic Partnership for Douglas Shaw and Associates. Shelley leads their sales team in assessing prospective clients’ fundraising programs to identify gaps and recommend solutions as the first step in developing partnerships with potential clients.

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