Uncommon Connections: A Preview of Thom Singer’s PD Keynote Presentation

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By Emma Gassman

Are you building long-term and mutually beneficial relationships? In a world still distanced and with more remote work, building relationships, trust and accountability is a key to growth. We spoke with Thom Singer, Apra’s Prospect Development 2022 keynote about how to advance innovative projects, build trust in an organization, bridge gaps between personalities and more.  

Adopting an ‘entrepreneurial’ mindset and approach to your work can be difficult when you’re in a large, conservative institution like a public university or hospital. What is your No. 1 recommendation for those of us looking to advance entrepreneurial and innovative projects with our employers?

The key to advancing your entrepreneurial and innovative projects is to never lose sight on “Community and Collaboration.” In the end, all opportunities come from people. When you have strong reputation and long-term business relationships, people will stop and listen to your ideas. The problem with ignoring the human connections is that without a network who knows you, each time you pitch an idea you also have to sell yourself. When they know, like and trust you . . .  you’ll have an easier time getting people to hear your fresh concepts and consider your proposals.

Are there differences between how managers or leaders build trust and how individual contributors build trust in an organization?

Trust is the baseline for all we hope to accomplish in business. Trust is not some intangible concept, but instead it is the foundation for all we do in our lives and careers. Your reputation and personal brand have to be based in trust — regardless of your job title or role in the organization. Trust is built through consistent actions. And while it takes time to establish trust, it can be erased in a comment if you break with what people expect you to do in a tough situation. I would say that your actions matter no matter your role in the company.

Prospect development professionals are often far more introverted than their frontline colleagues. What practical tips would you offer to turbocharge the day-to-day collaboration between these wonderfully different types of personalities?

It does not matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert when it comes to building business relationships. Contrary to popular belief, introverts are better networkers, as the best connections are made by asking questions and listening — not by talking. But to collaborate in any situation, you have to be respectful of each other.

To turbocharge your day-to-day collaboration with co-workers, clients, vendors and other members of your community, the trick is to make other people realize they matter to you. Sometimes we get overly busy and stressed, and this can take our focus inward. Often in these situations the most outspoken, extroverted and confident people push past remembering the relationships and try to get to results. But without relationships, the results may not be lasting. To build community and work together, we must all be working to serve each other.

You talk about how too often we put people in boxes and do not notice the new phases they enter. How can prospect development professionals coach their frontline fundraiser colleagues to avoid this kind of mindset? How can they help them build stronger relationships, particularly if the prospect relationship requires more nurturing or a longer lead-time?

Often we judge people quickly and fill in the blanks about them without spending the time to get to know them as individuals. We make assumptions based on job title, where they went to school or other superficial demographics. But to build strong relationships we have to be willing to learn about others. A key place to start is to ask a lot of questions and really listen to the responses.

In addition, people learn, grow and change over time. If you have known someone for years, you may not be paying attention to their progress, but instead still judging them based on earlier interactions. And if you have not seen or talked to them in three or more years, you may not really know them at all. 

When you learn from experiences or get additional education, you hope others will notice. Thus, it is important to remember other people will also progress and change. Look for this in others, and be invested in discovering where they are in their journey (in career and life). Without curiosity we miss many of the best parts of other people.


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Thom Singer is the keynote speaker at Prospect Development, taking place July 26-29 in Atlanta. Learn more and register today!

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