I recently attended the amazing MA Conference for Women, whose mission is to provide "connection, motivation, networking, inspiration and skill building for thousands of women each year."
The conference certainly delivered. Like the other 8,000 (that's not a misprint) attendees, I spent the day absorbing both practical and motivational tips, stories, and wisdom from incredible speakers like Arianna Huffington, Brene Brown, Deepak Chopra, and Charlotte Beers.
To gain the maximum benefit from this event, I headed into it knowing that this was my chance to spend a day listening rather than talking. Perhaps I'd ask a question or two, and meet some new people, but my primary goal would be to hear from individuals who have accomplished some impressive things and learn from the ups and downs of their professional journeys.
There I was, basking in a sea of keynotes and breakout sessions, sponging up every last word.
Then lunchtime hit.
The conference had assigned attendees to specific tables. When I arrived at my table, I was bombarded by very outgoing woman who was busy selling her business to those of us who happened to be seated near her. Without even shaking my hand, she launched right into her pitch and passed around small cards with various sayings on them. I was so rattled out of my sponge-like state that, to this day, I'm not entirely sure how those cards tied into her business--or even what her business was.
Let's be clear: Every business can benefit from networking. Every professional should think about whether and how to utilize networking to enhance their careers and the careers of others. But networking is not selling, and sometimes the best gains from networking stem from what you learn about other people. At its best, networking equals relationship building. It involves a genuine interest in the other person.
Both parts of my conference story--the listening and the verbal bombardment--directly relate to fundraising. When cultivating or stewarding a potential donor, the primary goal is to express a genuine interest in that person and help them fulfill their philanthropic interests. To listen carefully to their overt and subtle concerns, and determine how you can use that information to meet their charitable giving needs. Successful fundraising does not stem from a place of immediately asking for money, or even in making assumptions that the person you're meeting definitely wants to give to your nonprofit.
Begin with the relationship. Listen to your donors. Absorb what they're saying. Once you've done that, your fundraising strategies will begin to fall into place.