My kids have had the good fortune to attend a local nursery that has helped be the making of them. It’s run by the council, so doesn’t have quite the same profit motive as a typical day nursery and has the benefit of some of the most highly rated nursery staff in the borough.
The staff think very carefully about each and every child and the approach that they take with the kids. There’s no naughty step: there’s thinking time (for major or repeat misdemeanours), ‘walking feet’ rather than ‘no running’ and ‘show me some good listening’ as opposed to our domestic bellowing version of that phrase.
In our house there seems to be a fair dollop of thinking time and not so much of the good listening. Which got me thinking. About the dying art of listening.
A while back I cancelled my trade union subscription and a regular gift to a top five charity. I’d never made any use of the trade union benefits and felt it was time to call it a day. And I was about to go on maternity leave and experience the shock of living on (more or less) one salary so I felt I had to rein in the charity direct debit too for a while.
My trade union, bless ’em, put up a valiant fight for me. They called me. They wrote to me saying I could reduce my subscription for a while rather than abandon them altogether. It was a brilliant, well put together case for support showing me how well they had heard me.
When I called the charity, I didn’t even feel as important as a supporter number. No thanks for my regular gift that duly arrived every month for years on end. No querying why I was leaving. No, would I like to reduce my regular gift for a wee while. Though perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised. It’s the same charity who when I called to say I wasn’t receiving any updates said they would send me stuff but it would only be a matter of time before I was calling back asking them to stop.
Then there was the mental health charity who I called having heard their Radio 4 Appeal. I gave the princely sum of £10 but they ended up taking many hundreds of pounds out of my account because they accidently inputted my three-digit security code rather than ‘10’ into the relevant bit of the computer. So they have me down as a liker of Radio 4 appeals in some tick box on a system somewhere rather than taking the opportunity to find out a bit more about why I gave. And presumably they had me down as (temporarily at least) a major donor.
Good listening is fast becoming a real privilege and a real rarity. I married into a big family where I discovered I played a useful role in listening to some of the people who all appeared to talk at the same time and over each other just to get heard.
And I’ve discovered in listening to charity’s supporters that their own lives and stories are so much more fascinating than anything a charity can tell me about their donors.
Female, aged x-y, ABC1 doesn’t tell me anything. Speaking to a legacy supporter who was married to Brian for 49 years does. It tells me why she took a major cancer charity out of her Will. It tells me why the charity I was interviewing her about stayed in her Will. Why it reminds her of Brian. Why she’s so grateful for the love that she experienced over those 49 years. Why it is really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
In turn I put together all of these stories and motivations to help paint the strategy picture in a more real, defined way with real people in mind.
And I learn something about myself too. That an hour-long conversation with a delightful donor can be a real and genuine highlight of my week. That I should put things into perspective and not bemoan a packed lunch day in quite the same way that I do. And that a little good listening can go a very long way.