Importance of Emotional Intelligence with Your Board and Major Gift Officers

While fundraising strategies get a lot of attention, the truth is that emotional intelligence is what shapes the success of your board. Here’s why it’s time to prioritize emotional intelligence.

If there’s one thing your whole board agrees on, it’s donations. The problem, of course, is that getting them is much easier said than done.

And while a great deal of attention is paid to fundraising strategies, many board members may be surprised to learn that emotional intelligence is more important to successful fundraising than strategies alone.

Here’s a look at why emotional intelligence is so important for your board’s success in fundraising and what you can do to promote emotional intelligence among your board members.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

You’re likely familiar with the phrase IQ, usually floated in connection to someone like Albert Einstein. An equally important facet of intelligence, one that many people are less familiar with, is the concept of emotional intelligence.

Your intelligence quotient, or IQ, measures your ability to make mental connections and think abstractly. As defined by Brightdot CEO Bill Crouch in his ebook Start with Heart, your emotional intelligence quotient, or EI, is the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions.

Your capacity to express and control emotions is essential, but so too is your ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others.

Components of Emotional Intelligence

Your IQ is measured through standardized tests. Emotional intelligence is much harder to quantify, though there are tests out there to assess it. That said, researchers generally identify four main components of emotional intelligence:

  1. Perceiving emotions (understanding emotions to perceive them accurately)
  2. Reasoning with emotions (using emotions to promote thinking)
  3. Understanding emotions (correctly interpreting the subtle meanings of emotions)
  4. Managing emotions (regulating and responding accurately to emotions)

The most basic of the four is perceiving emotions. At the highest level (managing emotions), you need much greater conscious involvement.

Examples of Emotional Intelligence

The fun thing about emotional intelligence is that, like our IQ, we use it (or neglect to use it) all the time. That said, emotions are complex creatures, which means expressions of emotional intelligence are also complex and subtle.

For example, problem-solving can be a sign of emotional intelligence, but a subtler one is if someone is more likely to ask open-ended questions. An emotionally intelligent person is a great listener and gets along with people in most situations, but they’re also not afraid to be vulnerable, and if they make a mistake, they’re not afraid to admit it and apologize.

Basically, high degrees of emotional intelligence involves a high degree of awareness of yourself and others and how best to navigate social situations gracefully.

Conversely, someone who lacks emotional intelligence often has trouble being assertive. They hold onto grudges as much as they hold onto their mistakes, and they don’t handle feedback well. They tend to feel misunderstood by others because they don’t understand others’ emotions, but most of all, they don’t understand their own emotions, and they don’t know how to regulate them either.

Emotional Intelligence in Fundraising

While emotional intelligence is difficult to quantify, it’s also one of the most important traits your board and major gift officers could have.

As an experienced fundraiser, you know that fundraising is not actually a numbers game. It’s a people game. And while you can script some phone calls, you won’t be able to script every interaction with every prospect. Emotional intelligence is what allows you to think on your feet.

Yet emotional intelligence is also a subtler tool than simply adapting to the circumstances. It’s also what allows you to dig deeper into the tics and quirks of a potential donor. It’s what allows you to see what methods a donor responds to, or if you’ve hit a rough patch in the conversation and need to recalibrate your tactics.

Why Emotional Intelligence Trumps Strategy in Major Gifts

Fundraising strategies get a lot of credit among nonprofits. They’re the big, flashy tactics that promise you’ll be able to hook major donors.

Here’s the thing: at the end of the day, emotional intelligence actually matters more than strategy. Especially when it comes to major gifts. There’s one key reason for this: relationships.

Fundraising strategies are built around netting donations. That’s important to know, but it also treats your donors like a sales target. Emotional intelligence treats them like people. As all great fundraisers will tell you, fundraising is not the art of bringing in big donations, but the art of building the relationships that land you those donations.

Most of the time, donors give from the heart, not the head. Yes, it’s important for them to know about what you do and why it matters, but scientific studies have shown that generosity stimulates dopamine production in the brain, a neurotransmitter connected to our experience of pleasure and reward. Basically, people donate because it makes them feel good.

For this reason, donating is a highly personal act for many people. If you don’t treat them as though they’re doing something personal and connect with them on a personal level, your board and major gift officers will always struggle to connect with and motivate major donors.

How Your Board Can Build Emotional Intelligence

So, how can your board and major gifts officer build emotional intelligence? In order to make emotional intelligence part of your regular fundraising practices, you have to codify behaviors that promote emotional intelligence on an organizational level. From creating joy at work (a favorite of our founder and CEO, Bill Crouch, in his ebook Start With Heart) to better listening, change happens across the board.

For example, board members should take the time to understand each other. If they don’t understand each other (or have the skills to do so) they’ll have a hard time understanding donors. You also need to promote caring, emotionally aware behavior among your board–accept nothing less than treating others the way you would want to be treated.

We Help You Connect the Dots

At the end of the day, fundraising is a people business. It’s about building relationships that support your organization well into the future. Prioritizing emotional intelligence recognizes the role of relationships in fundraising as a human-centric exercise.

For everything that comes after, we’re here to help you connect the dots, leveraging your relationships to build the foundations of your organization. Ready to take a human approach to fundraising? Get in touch today to learn how our approach can help.


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