Situations of conflict with our donors and community members can lead to positive outcomes as long as appropriate conflict resolution skills are utilized. And yet, fundraisers and nonprofit organizations tend to avoid them.
As an experienced fundraiser once told me:
I’ll take a strong reaction, even if it is negative, over apathy any day.Major Gifts Fundraiser
Lead with Active Listening and Empathy
Who are the experts in de-escalating highly agitated situations and lead them to constructive and safe outcomes? Even if your community members are probably not going to be physically violent, the techniques and research generated by the FBI can be helpful.
The Behavior Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit. This model offers five steps to get other people to see your point of view and change their behavior.
You can read the full paper here:
Behavioral Change Stairway Model
- Active Listening: Truly listen and make the other party aware that you’re listening.
- Empathy: Understand their position not only intellectually, but also emotionally. What are they feeling?
- Rapport: One the other party starts to feel that you understand them. Trust starts to build here.
- Influence: At this point, you can start to work on problem-solving with them. They may listen to your recommended course of action.
- Behavioral Change: They act.
Typically, people try to start directly with #4 (Influence) and expect #5 (Behavioral Change) to happen. This often leads to failure.
Going into a conflict-laden conversation saying “these are the reasons why your position is wrong” is unlikely to cause any behavioral change because human beings are primarily emotional.
Pretending that most people are completely rational will, more often than not, make your conversation fail.
Active Listening Techniques
General tips from Eric Barker’s blog:
- Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
- Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
- Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
- Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.
Additional techniques used by FBI negotiators:
- Ask open-ended questions
You don’t want yes-no answers, you want them to open up.
- Effective pauses
Pausing is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional.
- Minimal encouragers
Brief statements to let the person know you’re listening and to keep them talking.
Repeating the last word or phrase the person said to show you’re listening and engaged. Yes, it’s that simple — just repeat the last word or two:
Repeating what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. This powerfully shows you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting.
- Emotional labeling
Give their feelings a name. It shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Don’t comment on the validity of the feelings — they could be totally crazy — but show them you understand.
Donor Conflict Resources
Vecchi, Gregory M. “Conflict & crisis communication: a methodology for influencing and persuading behavioral change.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 34+. Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.
Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J., 2005. Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10(5), pp.533-551.