Someone wiser than me said, “A fool at 40 is a fool forever” and I believe that is true. So it was one afternoon approaching my 40th birthday that I said, out loud for the first time, “I am in introvert. And I am okay.”
I had this realization after a particularly exhausting conversation with a former friend, a total blowhard who talked and talked, carrying on about this and that, never asking after me or my affairs. Every time we would hang out I’d want to hide under the bed afterwards. My Dad say that folks like this talk to hear their heads rattle.
An introvert? How could this be, as a fun loving urbanite, with many friends and busy weekends? How was this possible as a former major gift fundraiser who loved securing $5,000 commitments over lunch above all else?
So I started thinking about it. The best fundraisers I know, for the most part, are thoughtful, articulate listeners. We are people who wait for something worthwhile to say before they talk. We prefer meaningful conversation to endless small talk. We aren’t always great working a room of strangers. We need quiet time to recharge. And that’s okay.
Now, as a coach to fundraising staff and executives, I contend that introverts (almost always) make stronger fundraisers. Why is this?
Introverts listen. This is the big one. Most of quality fundraising is listening carefully to donors, learning about their interests and concerns. What I learned during this gonzo 2016 is that it is almost impossible to convince anyone of anything. Our job is to share opportunity and align with values. People who listen impatiently just to talk themselves aren’t usually strong major gift fundraisers.
Introverts stick to the plan. We have all been on the right appointment, at the right time, with the right prospect. And the Ask never happens, or we make a mess of it. This is often due either to a lack of preparation, or because someone ignores the game plan. Who goes off script the most? The Chatty Ones, who can prattle on for a full hour about this and that, leaving no time for the business at hand.
Introverts are purposeful in speaking. Asking is actually pretty easy when you do it right – by the right asker, at the right time, for the right amount and project. The work is in the cultivation. An introvert fundraiser can make the Ask, at the right time with simple words, and then start listening again.
Introverts let others talk. The best solicitations often pair staff and volunteers, each making a meaningful contribution to the Ask. Is there a secret sauce to asking for money? I don’t think that there is, but you could do worse than a board member sharing their own story with a peer, while the staff member presents a specific opportunity. But the reverse can work just as well. But when a staff member talks for an hour straight (and CEOs can be the most guilty of this), leaving the board member or volunteer to nod along, no one is going to feel good about the meeting and the outcome.
Introverts are physically capable of shutting their mouths for two seconds. I kid my extrovert colleagues. But seriously. Work on your listening. Ask active questions. When you ask, shut your mouth. Let the prospect respond first, even if it gets awkward.
The best boss I ever had was a true extrovert. Warm, charming, and an ace relationship fundraiser. We did a big endowment campaign together. She would make the case. I’d ask for the money. I told her that I would kick her under the table if she said a single word after we presented the opportunity. She learned to listen better, and learned when to stay quiet.
Together, we raised millions.
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