IPA Blog

Hello, Anyone There? Why Isn’t Anyone Listening??

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

By Jennifer Pendleton, CFRE, Vice President - Indiana, Aly Sterling Philanthropy


We’re all so busy.

Information coming at us left and right. To-do lists a mile long. 

And, something always falls off the plate, because…there is so much to read, learn and know these days. 
(In fact, I’m super impressed you’ve read this far.) 

So how do we communicate with our constituencies when the demand for their attention is great?  No one has time to personalize every message and meet with every board member, potential grantee, stakeholder or donor.  That isn’t realistic. 

The answer is in this question: Do we have a good pulse on what our constituents want and need or are we focused on what WE need? 

Think about it. 

Whenever I get stuck or feel like I’m not getting great responses from my own constituencies, I realize it’s time for a checkup.  Here are some ideas on how to reconnect and re-energize your approach:

1) Have one-on-one meetings with each of your board members and/or key stakeholders at least once a year.  Ask them about their experience with your organization, what they like and don’t like.  What would engage them in a more meaningful way? How do they want to receive information from you? 

2) Meet with organizations you know and organizations you don’t know.  Pick organizations whose priorities relate to yours with the sole purpose of getting to know them better. For those you know, it will enhance the relationship. For those you don’t know, it may lead to an understanding of why they haven’t applied for a grant, gotten involved or taken advantage of educational opportunities.  What could you do to change that?  The answers may shock you.

3)  Think about language.  When we put information out there, is it understandable?  We use a lot of words like “sustainability” and “capacity building.”  These buzz words have varied meanings, even among those who lead foundations. We have to make sure we’re building bridges of understanding among those who can benefit or give. Sustain what?  Increase the capacity of what?  It’s hard to apply or get involved when the understanding isn’t there or people don’t think a message is meant for them.

Now unfortunately I don’t have all the answers.  What I do know is that, when in doubt, go talk to people.  Get in front of them.  Ask questions, get their feedback, listen and then implement some of their ideas. 

The truth is, the work that you do is amazing.  Your constituents genuinely WANT to hear from you.  You are touching people’s lives in ways that can forever change them.  Getting information to the masses and standing out among them is important now more than ever.  However, the human element and connection behind the messages is how leaders will always stand out.    

Because sometimes, to be listened to, we have to listen to others first.

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