PD · Institutional Knowledge · General Fundraising · Ethics · Relationship Management · Institutional · Article · I · II
Communication Styles in Advancement: Exploring Perspectives and Biases
By Gisela Simental and Cindy Burciaga | April 13, 2023
“Biases are unavoidable, and everyone has them based on their experiences.” —Anam Ahmed
Communication fosters a collaborative work environment and builds a successful fundraising shop. One challenge particular to this space is the interaction between prospect development and frontline fundraising. Prospect development professionals have skills that allow them to build a comprehensive picture of donors and prospects from multiple sources of information; frontline fundraisers help bring this picture to life. While it sounds like the perfect match, this is not always the case due to different perspectives and lack of effective communication.
Understanding the challenges in these interactions and discussing how our biases are reflected in our language, tone and approach helps us understand how to be active agents in influencing successful working relationships — and consequently, how to have a positive impact on the fundraising success of the division.
The goal of this article is to create a space to reflect upon the following:
- What could be influencing my and others’ perceptions?
- What are possible implicit biases within my department?
- What is my communication style?
Moment of Reflection
In prospect development, we regularly find ourselves as the point of contact, distributors and translators of prospect and donor information. To do this efficiently, we must build positive working relations with almost everyone across the division. An inherent challenge in this field is navigating through the various lenses fundraising is seen through — frontline fundraisers, endowment compliance, information systems, alumni and donor engagement, annual giving, etc.
The richness of our role requires us to communicate effectively with internal stakeholders. This a crucial skill prospect development professionals must learn to develop and grow.
Communication styles, perspectives and biases are broad topics and deserve their own stage. This piece aims to open the conversation and allow for future analysis of how these intersect and impact working relationships in fundraising.
According to an article by Lawrence Robinson et al., effective communication is “about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information.” These intentions are likely shaped by personal biases and perspectives. Acknowledging the intrinsic challenges that biases and perspectives create is becoming a salient topic in many fields, as the foundation of inclusive work environments.
Princeton University’s UMatter initiative is a good example. The program provides tools and resources to help individuals understand their role in fostering healthy relationships and good communication. Its tools expand on communication styles and why it’s important to acknowledge them. Here, communication styles are classified as aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication. Given that prospect development professionals interact with many areas, it is very likely we have or will encounter these styles. Identifying these different styles and staying objective helps us learn and reflect on our communication style, allowing us to use language more effectively while considering the emotions and intentions of others.
Biases are the brain’s tendency to categorize new people and information. Once the new thing has been put into a category, our brain responds to it the same way it does to others in that category.
Research from the Decision Lab lists 49 biases described as humans’ mental shortcuts. Some that can block working relationships and professional growth amongst advancement teams include:
- Confirmation Bias: Why do we favor our existing beliefs?
- Ambiguity Effect: Why do we prefer options that are known to us?
- IKEA Effect: Why do we place a disproportionately high value on things we helped to create?
- In-group Bias: Do we treat our in-group better than we do our out-group?
Kendra Cherry explains in her article, “List of Common Cognitive Biases,” how “people like to believe that they are rational and logical; the fact is that we are continually under the influence of cognitive biases. These biases distort thinking, influence beliefs, and sway the decisions and judgments that people make each and every day.”
Fostering Positive Working Relationships Starts with Self-Reflection
Creating awareness of the complexities of these topics — communication, biases, perspectives — will hopefully help us identify how we can proactively make an impact in fostering positive work environments.
We can start by asking ourselves:
- Can we identify our communication style? If yes, can you identify how it can be improved? Recognizing the language and terminology that reflect our background, interests and personalities will allow us to identify what is causing a disconnect and why sometimes it feels like we’re not speaking the same language.
- Are we aware of how our biases impact our decisions and perceptions at work? Reflecting on these can help us understand where our peers are coming from, why they communicate the way they do and how to bridge the gap in our communication with others.
Providing the tools for prospect development professionals to 1) be aware of these complexities, 2) know how to be proactive and 3) be receptive would help us thrive in our roles and impact our division in a much more profound way.
Where to Begin and Further Reading
Raising awareness of the importance of these topics will help foster a positive collaborative work environment and build a successful fundraising shop. However, the most powerful effect will be understanding our positionality in this space and how our biases and perspectives impact our communication, which can open the door to an inclusive work environment.
As mentioned earlier, the goal of this piece is to create a space for this conversation where all participants are active agents, bringing to the forefront the importance of reflecting on our biases and the powerful impact that these have.
- “Bias in Business Communication,” by Anam Ahmed
- “4 Types of Communication Styles,” Alvernia University
- “List of Common Cognitive Biases,” by Kendra Cherry
- “Cognitive Biases,” by The Decision Lab
- “10 Examples of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace and How to Avoid Them,” EasyLlama
- “Effective Communication,” by Lawrence Robinson, Heanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.
- “How to Apply Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework,” by Rafiq Elamnsy
- “Transactional Model of Communication” from Businesstopia
- “What Is Effective Communication? Skills for Work, School and Life,” from Coursera
- “Understanding Your Communication Style,” by Princeton University’s UMatter
This article was adapted by the authors from their presentation at Prospect Development 2022. Looking for more insightful ways to positively impact your shop? Join us at Prospect Development 2023, taking place August 28-31 in Indianapolis. It’s time to motivate, inspire, empower and amplify our profession. Learn more and register today.
Director of Business Intelligence, University of Texas at El Paso
Gisela has over ten years of experience in advancement, having served in roles in annual giving, stewardship, prospect management and research. She works closely with leadership in addressing reporting needs and is the main point of contact for frontline fundraisers for all things FPM. Gisela currently serves as the director for business intelligence at the University of Texas at El Paso, helping foster a data-driven decision culture.
Prospect Management and Research Officer, University of Texas at El Paso
Cindy has been with the University of Texas at El Paso since 2019. In 2020, she joined the prospect management and research team. In 2022, she and her supervisor presented at the APRA Prospect Development Conference. Her hobbies include riding her motorcycle and DIY projects.