What Do You Want To Get Better At Doing?

Whenever I’m in front of a group of development professionals, I like to ask a question that goes like this, “when someone asks about your work, what do you say you do?”

In most instances, I hear thoughtful and serious responses similar to the following, “I say that I build relationships with people who have an interest in our institution.”  Or, “I engage people based on their values and interests and our mission and vision.”

Wow!  That’s impressive!  And it all sounds great.  But it ain’t what we really think.  And here’s why I say that.

When I’m asked to speak at a conference, one of the first conversations I have with the organizer is around topics – what are they looking for and what am I interested in providing.  Without fail, a “hot topic” that the organizer will bring up is, “anything on how to be more effective in gift solicitation.”

Wait a second!  I thought our jobs were to “build relationships with people who have an interest. . . and values, mission, and blah, blah, blah. . . .”  And yet, what I’m regularly asked to provide is a presentation on how to ask better.

Technique is over-emphasized because it is simple to understand, mechanical, linear (do this, get that result), and easy to implement.  But it really doesn’t matter much at all.  And here is a real-world example of how inconsequential “asking” truly is:

After 3 years of dating, a young man works up the nerve to propose marriage.  If this couple has already talked of the future and if they have been open and honest about how they feel about each other, how much does it really matter for the young man use the “most effective” technique to propose?  And what, exactly, would be the “most effective” technique?

In order to be meaningful, wouldn’t the young man be wise to craft a marriage proposal based on their unique relationship?  If the young lady believes he is the man she wants to marry, will she say, “no” to his request because he doesn’t use some proposal technique purported to be in vogue in the men’s magazines?  Will she refuse because he fumbles the ring or flubs his line a bit?

When we think about “asking” in other spheres of life it becomes clear how inappropriate it is to focus so intensely on technique.  What counts is the relationship, not “the ask.”  And we know that “the ask” will be successful if we’ve built a trust-filled, values-based relationship.

Yes, we are in the business of engaging people and building relationships based on values, interests, mission, and vision.  We just need to be reminded sometimes that this is what we need to get better at.


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