One of the most important skills in fundraising is that of learning about your donors. This is particularly important as you prepare for a capital campaign, during which you will be inviting your donors to give large gifts that require thoughtful attention and a serious commitment.

You can (and should) learn a great deal about your donors through the Internet. However, you’re much more likely to know what is in someone’s mind when you go out and have a conversation with them.

Or, more specifically… when you ask them questions and listen to their answers.

Connect with Capital Campaign Donors by Asking Questions

To prepare for your capital campaign, you will have to get good at asking questions. Here’s why questions matter:

  • They demand answers
  • They stimulate thinking
  • They give information
  • They put you in control
  • They open people up
  • They lead to quality listening
  • They let people to persuade themselves

As with many seemingly simple subjects, there’s more to know about asking questions than you might imagine.

7 Topics for Questions to ask Your Capital Campaign Donors

You should be curious about key areas of your donors’ lives. Here are just a few of the things you may wish to learn about them.

  1. Family: heritage, parents, partner, children, grandchildren
  2. Lifestyle: home(s), vacations, hobbies, reading patterns
  3. Religion: affiliation, extent of involvement
  4. Education: high school, college, graduate school
  5. Values: heroes, hopes and aspirations
  6. Business: occupation(s)
  7. Philanthropy: giving history and patterns

6 Types of Questions to ask Your Capital Campaign Donors

In the past, we discussed the difference between open- and closed-ended questions. While that distinction is important, those are just two of the types of questions you might ask.

1. Closed-Ended Questions

Closed-ended questions generally yield “yes” or “no” responses. They often begin with the words “Do you…” “Are you…” “Have you…”. As a result, they are valuable to obtain simple information but seldom lead to effective conversation.

2. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions begin with “what,” “when,” how,” “why,” or “where.” They require the respondent to elaborate on the answer.

3. Value Questions

To understand a person’s philanthropic motives we must understand their values. Questions that probe someone’s values often lead to personal sharing that helps to define giving motives.

Value questions might be phrased around asking people to identify and talk about their heroes, their aspirations for their children or grandchildren, their personal goals or beliefs. In asking people value questions one must be careful not to overstep the bounds of your relationship with the person.

4. Permission Questions

Permission Questions ask for approval to ask more questions. Examples might be, “May I ask about your estate plans?” or more generally, “Would you mind if I ask you a few questions?” or, “Would you be willing to talk with me about the possibility of making a lead gift to our organization?”

Questions of this sort are helpful in moving a conversation forward.

5. Discovery Questions (Fact and Feeling)

When you ask discovery questions you are probing to find out more about the person. You can prompt people to discuss facts, or you can frame your questions to discover feelings.

The two lists below will give you a sense of the difference in the two approaches.

Fact-Finding Questions:

  1. What brought about your interest in us?
  2. Have you seen changes in our organization?
  3. What do you consider to be our primary purpose?
  4. How did you learn about our xyz Program?
  5. Have you heard about our plans for a new school in Troy?
  6. What other charitable organizations do you support?
  7. Have you considered putting us in your will?

Feeling-Finding Questions:

  1. What has prompted you to continue your interest?
  2. How do you feel about the changes?
  3. Why do you feel this is important?
  4. How important do you feel the xyx program is to an organization?
  5. What are your thoughts about the need for it?
  6. What is your favorite charitable organization?
  7. How do you feel about our seeking bequests for Endowment?

6. Checking-In Questions

You may find it difficult to stop talking when you meet with donors. These checking-in questions provide a way to invite the other person to participate.

  • How does that seem to you?
  • How would that apply in your case?
  • How would you feel if that happened?
  • What do you think?

Continue the Conversation with Non-Questions

People often have more to say than their initial response to a question. Continue the conversation by formulating a statement that uses the information they have given you.

Your restatement might reflect content or feelings or both. For example, “I can tell you are excited about the possibility of a new charter school in Boston…” or “I sense that you have reservations about…”

Style Matters When Connecting with Capital Campaign Donors

Being good at knowing what questions to ask your capital campaign donors matters. However, the manner in which you ask those questions conveys more than you think.

Use the Right Body Language

Here are some simple body-language tips you might try as you connect with your campaign donors.

  • Make eye contact
  • Orient your body toward the speaker
  • Nod your head affirmatively
  • Mirror the other person’s body language
  • Use positive, noncommittal phrases (“Uh-huh,” “I see,” “Tell me more…”)
  • Sit in an open position without folding your arms in front of you

Be Authentic and Genuinely Curious

A genuine interest in other people is the siné qua non of good questioning and good listening. You may or may not be in accord with another person, but a sincere interest in his or her way of life, values and interests can lead the way to an honest, effective relationship.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Like many things in life, you get better at them with a little practice. You can practice asking questions and attentive listening in every area of your life:

  • Try it with your partner and your children.
  • Try it with friends and neighbors.
  • Try it with your colleagues.

And, of course, practice asking questions and attentive listening when you go out to speak with the generous people who give to your organization.

Connecting with Donors… What’s Your Experience?

What other tips and strategies have you tried to connect with donors? Do you have a specific story about how you asked questions and listened your way to a gift?

Please share your tips and stories in the comment section below so others might benefit from your wisdom.


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