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Board Fundraising Topics

The Importance of Listening

What can the rest of us learn from the Metropolitan Museum?

About the human scale of fundraising.

Emily Rafferty, the retiring resident of the Met Museum, was profiled in Crain’s last week talking, in part, about donor relations and motivation.

Sure, those of us that run nonprofits without the heft of the Metropolitan Museum’s renown, cachet, and board of directors might think – easy for her to knock on doors. But “there are a lot of people that I’ve gone to and asked for money, and it hasn’t been the right time for them,” she recounts.

Her response? Patience, and building an authentic relationship over time. 

What’s at the heart of fundraising, according to Rafferty? “It’s about an exchange and relationships and patience, and really caring about the people and the institution one is fundraising for.”

Note the emphasis on really caring – not just about the mission, but about the donor as a person with deeply-felt values, interests and concerns. “You learn to listen and listening is at the heart of it all,” remarked Rafferty.

So often we are only listening to find our opening. Only relationship-building with the “ultimate” aim in mind – a contribution to our nonprofit. But Rafferty is positing that we, in our hearts, have to care about the donor in front of us as an individual, not just as a means to an end.

Rafferty also offered this view of the conditions that must be addressed before a donor will say yes: “Donors need to be convinced that what they’re giving to has great merit and they can trust the institution, and that their money will be spent wisely according to the passions that they have.”