Listen More to Win More Grants and Donors

They’re everywhere. Whether you’re on staff at a nonprofit racing for those year-end donations, a grant writer chasing deadlines, or a consultant marketing yourself, there’s always a message, a video, an email, or a text that lists the top 10 things you must attend, buy, download, call, check off or find an intern to do or you’ll never succeed.

But that’s not all there is to winning grants and raising money. If there were only five or ten essential steps to follow, grant seeking and fundraising would be a breeze. We’d each only work 2 hours a day,  and general operating funds would roll in like a mighty river to transform communities.

To be clear, I have learned a great deal from credible lists and have created a few lists myself that I sincerely hope are helpful.

But sometimes, the most effective thing you can do is not do the next item on a list—it’s listening. Really listening. Listen to program directors explaining what they want to accomplish, hear out accountants outlining budget deficits, and most importantly, make space for people who live and work in the communities you serve to share the opportunities and challenges they see. Take the time to hear pauses between words, watch facial expressions change, and let the message sink in by focusing on what you hear, not on what you want to say next.

Deep listening is essential when seeking funding for new programs and services that often aren’t clearly defined. In my perfect world, any organization I work with would come to me with well-researched, soundly developed programs complete with objectives and budgets, and maybe even a fully developed logic model. Then I would sigh contently and help them find the best matches in foundations and individual donors. All proposals and funding campaign materials would be completed and launched at least a week before the deadline. This is also the part where bluebirds sing me awake each morning, chips and salsa have no calories, and the temperature is always between 60 and 75 degrees with a gentle rain at nightfall.

In the meantime, there’s listening. A good listener sets themselves up to ask good questions that then lead to discussions about program details, successes, and challenges. Finding new data can lead you to craft more compelling grants. Taking the time to ask the questions now can make a positive change in the communities you serve.

During the Grant Professional Association’s national conference in November, Fundraising HayDay co-host Amanda Day and I , along with Lucy Morgan of My Fed Trainer, hosted a session called “Ask Me Anything.”  After intro slides, we fielded any grant-related questions attendees had about any aspect of the entire grants process. This hybrid on-site and online session recording became the final episode of Season 4: Ask Me Anything ( The experience of not knowing what was coming next, of flying without the net of a fully scripted PowerPoint deck, helped deepen my listening skills in an unexpected way.

So, take a listen, and see what you think.


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 4 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 3 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.


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