top of page

Hamilton Has It: Talk Less, Listen More

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Aaron Burr may have said it (almost) right to Alexander Hamilton, how active listening can transform your philanthropy practices.

One of the best tools in your philanthropic toolbox is found early in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s runaway hit Hamilton. Maybe you’ve heard of the little-known Broadway show!? And no, it isn’t the tight harmonies of the Schuyler Sisters or the comedic relief of Jonathan Groff playing King George that I’m talking about. (It’s a catchy tune though, right?!)

Aaron Burr says to Alexander Hamilton: Talk less, smile more.

Do you remember that moment? I do. It stuck with me from the very first time I saw the production, touring through the Old National Center in downtown Indianapolis.

So far as philanthropy goes, maybe a slight modification to Mr. Burr’s line would benefit us all. Consider incorporating the following strategy in your daily philanthropic practices:

Talk less, listen more.

“But,” you’re saying, “how in the world do I update the prospective donor on all of the great work we’re doing? How do I tell them about the overwhelming need we have? If I’m not going to talk much, how do I build rapport with the person on the Zoom call or maybe on your socially distanced coffee walk in the park?”

“Not to mention, I can’t make the ask if I’m going to talk less. Making the ask is my main role as a development professional” you posit resolutely!

Well, consider the following two points, in no particular order:

If you were to ask more open ended, intriguing questions that show your interest in the prospective donor as a person, not simply as a prospective donor, how much more helpful information would they provide you?

Information the prospective donor provides you in a solicitation appointment is just as valuable as what you garner during the official cultivation stage of the giving cycle. In fact, the information on your solicitation visit may be even more mission critical to have at your fingertips before you make your big pitch. Those morsels and tidbits add insight and alert potential potholes for the big ask you’re about to make.

What intel are they sharing in their answers? They’re jittery about the unknown of a recent Board meeting, ok let’s either address that before making the pitch so their concerns don’t drown out your proposal. Are they suddenly talking more about fiscal wellness and less about programming compared to their usual interest areas, maybe you want to dial-up your reference to strategic reserves and the balance sheet in your upcoming ask for support.

The prospective donor is telling you things and, as one friend of mine says, “they are giving you the answers to the test.” But we only hear those answers if we ask them the questions, and then get out of the way for them to answer.

Talk less, listen more.

People love to talk about themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Have you ever been on a date? (And if it was years ago, stay with us on this, some things still haven’t changed…)

“Oh, that’s intriguing, fascinating to hear that! Actually, tell me more about that, would you?” says your comrade from across the table over coffee. What and excellent way for you two to get to know one another just a little more, and also to nudge you to still be more engaged in the conversation at the same time. You were sharing about your interest or pastime and suddenly you feel heard, you may feel recognized and perhaps even feel a growing bond with this person.

You’ll likely recall Dale Carnegie’s suggestion that people like hearing their own name, right? No doubt there’s a careful and authentic balance to employing that tactic, but there is something to be said about listening carefully to what your coffee partner says, repeating it back to them, showing you’re paying attention. You are tuned in!

It’s part of the way we humans are wired, and as development professionals it isn’t our duty to try and change that wiring, but it is our duty to build meaningful relationships. And to build those relationships, we should listen more than what might be normative in this day and age.

In closing, are your antennas always up? Is your radar always scanning for what the prospective donor did (or did not!) say over that cup of coffee? If so, you’re halfway there. Good!

Now you just need to sit back (or maybe lean in ever so slightly to physically signal you’re interested?)...pause, listen to what they are saying and consider their information as priceless intel in building your relationship.

Cape Fletcher Associates

834 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page