Requesting A Song and Engaging Key Constituents

The Nashville, Tennessee, airport has a decidedly “country-music feel” to it (as one might expect!).   In fact, there are a few places throughout the airport that showcase country-music singers who are trying to make it.  One such place is the well-known restaurant/honky tonk “Tootsies.”  Whenever I walk by Tootsie’s in the Nashville airport some young aspiring singer is strumming a guitar and serenading the travelers who have stopped in for a bite to eat.  Usually, it’s a pretty good show – for an airport!

I was in Tootsie’s at the Nashville airport recently eating dinner and doing what I thoroughly enjoy doing – people watching.  An especially talented young singer was performing for the crowd and he was taking requests.  In fact he was asking people for requests.

He would pick someone out and say, “What song would you like to hear?”  Typically, they would reply, “Something by Kenny Chesney (or whoever is their favorite country-music artist).”

So he would play a well-known song from the chosen artist.  And guess what each person did when he started playing “their” song?

Yep, they sang it with him.

They didn’t just hum with him.  They were really singing — keeping the beat with a pat on the thigh, complete with facial expressions, the whole nine yards.  I was witnessing what each person must look like as they belt out their favorite songs in the privacy of their car or shower!

What I noticed is that they didn’t sing along with him after their requested song ended (I watched them).  In fact, many of them left to go catch their planes immediately after they finished singing their song.  They were waiting to leave until after their song was done.  Being engaged with this experience took priority.

As I watched this scene unfold again and again, I realized what was happening.  Sure, each requester was singing because they liked the song and/or the artist. But there was something more going on.

The crooner was seeking advice (tell me what song you want to hear).  And as soon as an individual went from being a part of the crowd to a “participant,” he or she became invested in the show.  They were singing in their show now!  They were singing along because their song choice was on display and they wanted it to go well.  Because they had requested the song publicly, this was, in part, their show and they were going to make sure at least one person was enjoying it.

Development pros regularly lament the difficulty involved in getting members of our governing boards, our volunteer councils, and other key constituents to feel, behave, and give as if they are fully invested in our institutions.  A big part of our job as development leaders is to get as many people as possible to “sing from the same song sheet” and “sing along” with the strategic plans of our institutions.  Inviting them to participate in choosing the song to sing is a good first step in making that happen.

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