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Grantee Connect - Listen and Learn

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Grantees and BWGC members network before the program

On May 3 Grantee Connect brought 54 grantee alums together with panelist Kelly Hodge-Williams, Executive Director of Business Volunteers Maryland, and Rob English, Executive Director of BUILD, to consider the importance of listening - to clients, volunteers, donors, friends and importantly those who may not understand what you do.

Non-profit work, said Hodge-Williams, is about relationships and to be successful we must value those relationships.  But how to do that in practice?  For Hodge-Williams and her staff it means listening, but true listening takes preparation and practice.   A win/win meeting starts with homework – find out everything you can about who you are meeting.  Set a goal for the meeting - what will you, and importantly, they get out of it?  In the meeting be other focused - don’t walk in with your needs up front.   What is their perspective, what keeps them up at night? Then solve their problem even if you do not get what you want.  

English noted that connecting also means asking permission to ask deeper questions, but cautioned that it is important to recognize the difference between personal and private.  While it is fine to ask, “Do you have kids?” (personal), but not “What’s your salary?” (private). You can ask “What is it like to live in this neighborhood with your family?” (personal), but not “What is your relationship with your husband? (private).  

He expanded on the theme by noting that listening without responding is an empty exercise. Both he and Hodge-Williams believe executive directors should regularly schedule time for meetings for the purpose of listening, rather than advancing a set agenda. Such meetings should be with current (not last year’s) participants, allies/partners, funders, board AND ‘enemies.’  To really know how you are perceived, you must ask.  

When asked how many attendees had time set aside for such meetings, very few did.