Just after The Raising of Money came out, I was asked to be a “subject matter expert” for the very first CFRE exam.
When I walked into that room and greeted the panel of experts, I was intimidated — even though I had just “written the book.” I didn’t believe everything that others on the panel believed. But as the youngest person in the room, I was just plain afraid to speak up.
What’s more, it was nearly impossible for me to participate in writing questions that would test people for “the right” answers, especially in a field as human and individual as ours.
I wanted more room for individuals. I wanted room to ask more questions, to test assumptions, to make discoveries and breakthroughs.
It’s dangerous to think we “know” how things work, what makes people tick.
We might have some answers, some theories. We might even have some answers that work pretty well in many situations.
But having too many answers leads to complacency, not to innovation or breakthroughs. It leads to cookie-cutter, me-too, same-old-same-old thinking and acting … and it does little to distinguish you and your cause as genuine, forward-looking, exciting, trustworthy, growing (and worthy of investment).
It’s much more useful to come from another place. A place of genuine curiosity.
As people who’ve gotten to know me well, through my writings, workshops, etc. know, I work this “curiosity” thing to the max.
It was funny, although a little embarrassing in the moment, when the old pro Maury Gurin and I lunched next to the Museum of Modern Art, his long-time client. Maury looked at me with a tired look on his face and asked, “Young man, why do you ask me so many questions?”
Well, I’ve asked and asked and asked — the professionals, the gurus, the philanthropically inclined.
That turned into a bit of a research project over the years, with thousands of interviews by me and those who’ve studied with me. But it’s one that’s still open. And it will always remain open. (You could be a part of it. Your very next donor visit could be more inquiry than presentation, if you choose.)
What might we discover, standing together and looking at the world with fresh eyes?
The most important questions are the fundamental ones.
The questions that seem too obvious to ask. The ones that might get you laughed at in meetings.
Way back when I was the youngest consultant hired by Ketchum, I was sitting in a training session one day. Still naive and wet behind the ears, I raised my hand and innocently asked “WHY would people give away their money?”
Maybe that got me laughed at, but I didn’t care. It’s a great question. Really, it’s THE question for us to be asking. And all these years later, even after I’ve asked similar questions directly to people who’ve given away fortunes and after I’ve studied human behavior (a never-ending journey) for decades, I still wonder about it.
Especially when we’re working one-on-one with people on major, principal, or legacy giving, we want to be open about what’s different about this particular person. This individual human being with all their idiosyncratic (maybe even peculiar) ideas and their own distinctive story.
What if we deeply listened to them with open hearts and minds, instead of hunting for their hot button so we can match them up with a program and make the right “ask” … or classifying them as fast as we can into some predetermined category that we got from some book we read?
There’s even more at work here.
When you ask better questions … and when your personal presence conveys genuine curiosity and regard (even love?) for the person … that’s when magic happens.
Their own awareness grows in their conversation with you. Awareness of what matters most to them, what motivates them, even the beginning of their own transformation starts with you asking the right question. Often they will say things they’ve never said before, or even thought before. Now that’s fun, and it’s powerful.
I’ve seen what can happen when we inquire into others’ experiences — really hear their stories and stand in their shoes — so we can learn from them. If we genuinely want to learn, with authenticity and with a deep sense of appreciation for the other person.
To be treated that way is something that’s rare in anyone’s lifetime, I’ll guarantee you that. (Real trust grows from that kind of relationship.)
Since you’re still with me, I trust you’re seeing how useful it can be, really how crucial it is, to cultivate your natural curiosity and the habit of beginner’s mind. To be open to questioning every assumption about “how we do things around here.”
After all, without that kind of openness, how could fresh ideas enter in? How can we make real progress? Being willing to have more questions than answers is the essential starting place … if you’re serious about stepping up and making more possible.