Donor Relations Tips for Shy People

Does wading into a room full of strangers terrify you?

Are you sure you’ll have nothing to say? Afraid you’ll embarrass yourself with your tied-up tongue?

Never fear.

I’m an introvert who likes people, but I find the idea of glad-handing, networking or otherwise behaving like my extroverted colleagues intimidating. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years.

So here are a few tips to help you navigate the crowded ballroom.

Tip 1: People is not a collective noun (in this case)

Thinking of “many” is more intimidating than thinking of individuals. One on one, we’re all just people. Take a moment and consider that they’re also wondering about whether the babysitter got there on time, or how much that car repair will cost.

In other words, they’re only people. Just like you.

Tip 2: Use your data as your shield

If you’re psyching yourself up for an event, you may be able to do some studying beforehand. Think about a few of the people who will be at the event. Consider what you know about them already and prepare a conversation opener.

People are amazed when someone remembers something about them. It makes them feel special. And when you make someone feel special, they’ll think you’re pretty special, too.

(Don’t go all creeper here, of course. If your database has private information – a pending divorce, for example – you’re not going to start there.)

Tip 3: Seek out the people on the margins

You’re not the only one feeling a little awkward. Don’t rush to the life of the party – chances are, they’re busy flitting from person to person anyway. Look for the quiet people, standing on the edges of conversations.

When you come over to talk to them, they won’t be looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting. They’ll be looking at you like you’re a hero.

Tip 4: You have two ears and one mouth

Attention – real attention – is a gift today. Ask open-ended questions: “What’s your connection with Org Z?” “What brought you here tonight?”

Then really listen. Look them in the eye, nod, ask questions to learn more. If you treat your conversation partner as if she’s fascinating, she’ll think you’re fascinating!

Tip 5: When all else fails, be useful

I always loved being the person assigned to the registration table. What a great opportunity to put names and faces together! A little chit-chat – about the weather even – and you’ve already broken some ice. It will be easier to return to that person once you’re mingling.

Even when I haven’t been staffing an event, I’ve jumped in to help the people who are. Those connections can be valuable as well. And when they talk to guests, they’ll introduce you. Connection made, painlessly.

Shyness doesn’t have to be a problem. Be empathetic, listen well, and think of the other person.

Forget about yourself, and you’ll be charming!

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John Haydon