Ask Prospective Donors These 8 Questions
Most fundraisers spend an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying about making the case for their organization.
But a far more productive undertaking is to get to know your major donors—particularly why and how they want to give. Find that out and you’ll have a sense of what you should ask them for and how you should go about asking them.
Find Answers You Won’t Get From Standard Prospect Research
Below are eight questions you should be able to answer about each of your prospective major donors. And you won’t learn the answers to many of them from standard prospect research.
To show you by example the kind of information you are after, I will follow each topic with a brief description of my own philanthropic patterns. Not because I’m particularly generous or interesting or special, but because you’ll get clearer idea of how and why this approach works.
Before you dive in, understand that I don’t have huge resources and have never even considered giving a gift of more than $10,000. However, I do like to be a major donor—and I am one. Even if you aren’t wealthy, you don’t have to rob a bank to be a major donor. Read to the end to find out how.
1. What in your donor’s life history makes them interested in your cause?
I was brought up in a family that valued culture—music and art were as much a part of my childhood as breathing and eating. My parents were both amateur musicians and artists. In my family, life without creativity was not considered much of a life at all. My two daughters are both in the arts—one is a musician and the other an actor.
2. Where does your organization fit into the donor’s pattern of philanthropy?
I support many types of organizations, including social justice and social service at a low level. But the organizations that pull at my heart, the ones I give more to, are those in the arts—theatres, musical groups and art centers.
3. What is the donor’s pattern of giving?
I give many small gifts. If someone I know asks me in person and what they ask for makes sense, I’m likely to give something. But for a few organizations, where I see that my gift will make a big difference and they have the courage to ask me in person, I give more.
4. Does the donor like to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?
I enjoy being a big fish in a small pond. I do that not because I want to be recognized, but because I like to know personally the people who run the organizations I give to. And I like to know that my gift will make a significant difference.
5. What’s the donor’s communications style?
I don’t much care for official, formal thank you letters. But when I’ve given a meaningful gift to someone I know, I’m pleased to get an immediate email thanking me and letting me know that they noticed.
6. How does the donor like to be asked?
Perhaps because I’m in this fundraising business, I like to be asked for specific gifts in person. I’m surprised at how seldom that happens. Like many people, I like being asked for help. Don’t you? I particularly like it when someone asks and I can say yes.
7. How does the donor like to be recognized?
I don’t care much for being recognized in public. In fact, I’d rather not be. But I do want to be thanked personally, immediately and from the heart by the person at the top of the organization.
8. What does the donor enjoy about giving?
I love the feeling of being generous when I believe that my generosity will make a real difference in the life of an institution or an individual.
Learn By Becoming a Major Donor Yourself
One of the best ways to learn about major gift fundraising is to become a major donor yourself and learn from your own personal experience.
If you're like me and you’re not very wealthy, but you want to try out being a major donor, just pick small organizations to give to. For many worthy organizations a gift of $500 or $1000 is a major gift, and they’d do handstands if they got a gift of $5,000.
If you pay close attention to your own patterns and motivations and responses to being a major donor, you’ll come to understand the kinds of things you should learn about major donors for your organization.
Whether a major gift for you is $1,000 or $100,000 or even $1 million, many of the things you should know about your donors are remarkable similar.
My Gift To You: A Handy Questionnaire
Do a bit of research. Print out this donor questionnaire. Use these questions as the basis for a discussion with some of your board members or donors. Let them know that it’s part of a research project to help you become more oriented to your donors.
Let me know what you learn by sharing it in the comments below.
I have another gift for you today—a different type of major gift. It’s my free eBook, “A Board Member’s Guide to Capital Campaign Fundraising.” Download your free copy today.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.