Communication: What’s Your Agenda?

The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw


When soliciting gifts or when cultivating donors, you may think your communication is clear, but often that’s not the case.

You can be so intent on telling YOUR story, talking about YOUR organization’s mission, and sharing YOUR organizational needs that you miss the point of clear communication and that is this: It’s a two-way street.

Recently, I listened to a radio program during which Dr. Danielle Orfi discussed her new book, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear.  In it she highlights findings from a study conducted in the United States exploring how patients and doctors communicate with one another.

The study found when patients go in for a checkup and begin talking, the doctor usually interrupts the conversation within 8-10 seconds so they can get right to business. Time constrains can prevent the doctor from listening. The patient, on the other hand, wants to share background information in an effort to reduce anxiety and to make sure the doctor has all the information.

Dr. Orfi emphasizes the importance of recognizing that the patient and the doctor come to the room with different agendas and different perspectives.

This is similar to what occurs during the donor solicitation process. The solicitor comes wanting to secure a gift while the prospective donor comes ready to receive information, share advice, or hold on to money!

It takes practice to determine how to acknowledge the different agendas and how to improve face-to-face communications skills. The way you communicate with one person may not be the way you communicate with another.

Here are some basic steps that will help you improve your communication with prospective donors:

  • Before your meeting with the prospect, be clear about what the desired outcome is and what strategies you will employ to get to that outcome.
  • Listen well and seek to understand the prospect’s agenda. Let the prospect do most of the talking (at least, initially). Ask open-ended questions (those beginning with who, what, how, when, and why). Make sure you understand exactly what the person is saying by asking questions and by reflecting back to the prospect what you have heard.
  • Answer the prospect’s questions clearly. If the prospect requires additional materials or information you don’t have with you, find a way to provide these promptly.
  • Show your gratitude for the person’s time, advice, and comments. Be sure to say “thank you” no matter what the outcome of the conversation.

While these steps can be expanded, they are ones that will help ensure that your communication is clear, concise, and real!

Do you believe you are a good communicator? I recently came across this short quiz (thank you, MindTools!) and encourage you to score yourself: