If you do just one thing right…listen for what the donor means, not what she says.

Posted by National Association of Charitable Gift Planners on Apr 15, 2015 1:37:03 PM

If you do just one thing right…listen for what the donor means, not what she says.

Part of head woman with hand to ear listeningWe all get calls from potential donors asking for information about “annuities”, or “trusts” or whatever type of gift has been featured recently in the media or marketing pieces.  Often, the donors don’t fully understand how the gift arrangements work.


It’s a natural impulse to respond only to the donor’s direct questions, to give her what she specifically requested.  But if we can remember to pause a moment, take a breath, and ask a few questions, we might be able to suggest a solution that better meets the donor’s needs.

Recently, a unitrust donor with whom I have worked for years called asking for an illustration of a unitrust.  She wanted to give an older friend a modest amount of dependable income as he ages.

So I asked her why she wanted a unitrust, and gently reminded her that unitrust payments can, and typically do, vary from year to year.  She asked if there was some way to provide predictable income instead.  I suggested a charitable gift annuity, and we talked through the pros and cons.  After thinking it over, she decided that the charitable gift annuity met her needs, and those of her friend.  She made the gift.  She feels good, and her grateful friend feels more secure.

It wasn’t what she asked for, but it was what she wanted.  And that’s what we gift planners strive to do: listen for what the donor means, not merely what she says.

Want a more in depth resource to help you improve your own listening skills while working with donors? Click below.

Listening Resource CTA

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Jonrie Dávila
Senior Associate Director of Planned Giving
Stanford University

Topics: philanthropy, donors, fundraising, General