Emotional Intelligence – Why It Matters to Great Fundraisers

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Do you ever wonder what distinguishes a great fundraiser from a good one? Emotional Intelligence is part of it. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

EQ is an important competency for fundraisers because:

  • Fundraising is an art, not a science. Development professionals who excel in the field have strong abilities to read the emotions of others, to empathize with them, and to understand their own role in influencing their decision-making.
  • Today’s donors expect a personalized approach. This is especially true in the major gifts arena. A fundraiser who understands how donors make decisions can tailor communications to be persuasive and effective.
  • Fundraisers must build and sustain strong relationships with many different audiences – internal colleagues, external partners, donors, prospects, board members and peers. 

The most exciting news about EQ? It can be learned! Unlike IQ (which is fixed from birth), EQ is a flexible skill that can be improved with practice. Here are the four core EQ skills and the benefits they’ll bring to your development work:

Self-Awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. 

Have you ever taken time after a lackluster donor meeting to think about what emotions came up for you during the conversation? And why? When you don’t take time to notice and understand your own emotions, they have a way of re-surfacing at the least convenient time. Figuring out which emotions pop up for you, and why, is the first step in improving your EQ.

Self-Management is your ability to use your emotional awareness to stay flexible and to direct your behavior positively. Self-management builds on self-awareness. 

Going back to that lackluster meeting…did the donor say or do something to push your buttons? Did you say (or not say) something you now regret? Practicing self-management helps you size up your emotions and take control before you veer off in the wrong direction.

Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on other people’s emotions and understand what is really going on with them. 

Have you ever talked with a prospective donor and spent so much time singing the praises of your organization that you forgot to listen and give them a chance to talk, too? We’ve all done it. But practicing social awareness means reigning in your enthusiasm – just a little! – so that you have time and space to tune into your donor’s emotions, pick up on how they are feeling, and use that understanding to move the conversation forward productively. You can read more here about how to have a donor-centered conversation with your donor.

Relationship Management is your ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully. 

Fundraising is about relationships. Practicing relationship management means putting together the first three EQ skills above to introduce your organization to new donors, to re-invigorate lapsed donor relationships and to steward current donors.  

Want to know more? In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves describe specific activities that can help you improve EQ in all four areas. The book is also the source for all of the definitions listed above. 

To get a sense of your own EQ skills, try taking the EQ appraisal offered in the book. Plus, the authors discuss some interesting EQ statistics that have emerged in their research. It’s fascinating stuff! Here are a few of my favorite stats:

  • EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58% of performance in all jobs. It’s the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.
  • Yet, only 36% of people can accurately identify their emotions as they happen.
  • 90% of high performers in the workplace are high in EQ.
  • CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace. Middle managers score the highest.

What are your EQ strengths? Which EQ skills would you want to improve?

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