Skip to main content


“Focus, Mr. Whitfield, focus” is a line in a play written by David Marquis (yes, we’re related.)

That line pops in my head when I need to pay attention to who or what is in front of me. Now that we’re out and about more, going to events, meeting with clients and donors, and just generally tending to business, it’s important to focus not just on the task, but also on the person in front of us.

Often times during a conversation we can be thinking about the point we want to make, the information or story we want to share. The very worst is at a networking event when one person scans the room over the head of another, totally not listening to the person in front of them.

We’re not focused on what the other person is saying. This is an especially bad habit when we’re talking with donors and other stakeholders. Donors, like every other human being, want to be heard, understood, and appreciated. As fundraisers, it’s our job to listen and make sure their expectations (within reason) are met.

Active listening is a communication skill , something to learn and develop. Active listening helps us understand the meaning and intent behind the words. Some active listening techniques are:

  • Showing interest in what is being said with good eye contact.
  • Asking open-ended questions to encourage further conversation.
  • Paraphrasing what has been said.
  • Being patient.
  • Withholding judgement and advice.

Let’s take this skill beyond the donor to our co-workers and colleagues, the clients our agencies serve and the volunteers who give their valuable hours of service. You may not interface with volunteers or clients, but you influence the culture of your organization. The way you present yourself matters. The way you treat other people matters. The way you listen makes a difference.

Take advantage of the new year to look sharp, hold your bearing, and listen to all with your eyes as well as your ears.

About Fundraising, for February every Thursday at noon:

  • Feb 9: Fiduciary Responsibilities and Board Orientation
  • Feb 16: The Board and Fundraising
  • Feb 23: The Board and Policies

DMGroupConsulting, is your frontline fundraising consultant. Contact us at