Learning to listen

Learning to listen

By Sue Wixley 2 October 2014

Is there anything more tedious than getting stuck at a party with someone who bores on and on about a topic without pausing for anyone else to offer their view? The ‘art’ of the monologue is defined by two things: lots of talking; very little listening. And where others do manage to contribute their thoughts, these are not allowed to shape or enlarge the conversation. Instead, the diatribe continues unchanged.

I’ve been reminded of the importance of listening in the discussions we at NPC have recently been involved in about how charities tell the story of their changing role in society and respond to concerns about how they operate. (This initiative has been spearheaded by CharityComms working with NCVO and others.)

As shown by our research with Ipsos-MORI on the public’s understanding of charities (and many other pieces of research, including by the Charity Commission and nfp-Synergy), people worry about a number of things. According to Mind the gap, the top five concerns are that charities:

  • Spend too much on executive salaries (42%);
  • Are not transparent enough about how they spend their money (36%);
  • Spend too much abroad (29%);
  • Put too much pressure on people to donate (29%); and
  • Spend too much on running costs (26%).

The public also has questions about charities’ role in campaigning and delivering public services, and about the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the sector. Indeed, there is no shortage of topics for conversation.

Of course, charities could respond like the party bore, wheeling out facts and figures on how things really are and why any concerns are misplaced. Or we could join the conversation and help to shape it. Luckily, there seems to be plenty of appetite for the latter. This will mean listening as well as talking—and then figuring out what people are really saying, not just what they are telling us. If we want to engage those who support us, whether directly as donors, volunteers and users of our services, or indirectly as taxpayers, then sitting out the conversation is not an option.