Highly Successful Fundraisers Ask Questions To Identify Donor Passion

Are you asking the right questions to begin a dialogue on donor passion and best serve your donors? A very talented fundraising colleague to whom I provide coaching and mentoring recently asked me how to best serve a long-term major donor.

The Background: The Fundraiser (F) has a very good relationship with this Donor (D). The nonprofit has engaged D in good stewardship, ensuring that D has been invited to luncheons, received newsletters and even met with those impacted by her benevolence. 

Despite all of this, D had decided to limit her support for this nonprofit so that she could make a significant impact in a new field.  
F had scheduled her next meeting with D, but was having a tough time figuring out how to zero in on programs at her nonprofit that D would want to support. 

My Suggestion: I recommended that F ask questions before trying to lead D in any particular direction. My favorite questions to help better identify a donor’s passion:

  1. What is the most meaningful gift you have ever made, and why did it bring you joy?
  2. What would you like to accomplish with your money that would be most meaningful to you?*

I recently visited with my fundraising colleague F following her visit with the Donor. Here is the story F shared, in her own words:

“When I asked this very pragmatic, successful businesswoman the first question, it immediately impacted her. She sat there for a minute and a tear came to her eye. She said what brought her the most joy was ‘helping the kids.’ This allowed us to have a personal dialogue about why she felt such joy and what we, as a nonprofit, could do to help engage her more. After a long conversation, we had identified ways that she could stay more engaged and involved with the kids that she helped support."

“After we finished talking about the first question, I asked her what she would like to accomplish with her money that would be most meaningful to her. This time she became much more serious and took some time to contemplate the question. Shortly after, she responded that she would want to support ‘teacher training and leadership development.’ Her answer helped open another great dialogue and allowed me to then get into the ‘Why.’ We discussed how teacher training was critical to education and providing for the future of young students. This was helpful for her, and it enabled my nonprofit to structure a program for her to support."

“Throughout the process, I never had to ask her to make a gift to my nonprofit. By the end of the discussion, the Donor had decided she wanted to support this program and had closed the deal herself, making the largest gift she has ever made to any nonprofit."

“These simple questions helped deepen our relationship and reinforced the Donor’s commitment to our nonprofit.”

My Thoughts: I really enjoy asking donors these simple questions because I learn what is important to them and how to advance their priorities. Asking questions and listening to the answers will enable you to become a “philanthropic advisor” to your donors.

One of my favorite quotes is from Nancy Willard: “Answers are closed rooms; and questions are open doors that invite us in.” There is no better way to learn about a donor’s passions than to ask.

Your thoughts are welcomed. Thx  ben
*Special thanks to my friends at Advancement Resources who turned me on to this question a few years ago. 


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