4 powerful questions to ask major donors

connecting with donors

One of the top questions I hear from clients who are new to major gifts is this:

“What, specifically, do I talk about in a major donor meeting?”

First and foremost, you’re aiming to have a meaningful conversation – in fact, you’re doing way more listening than talking, because you’re asking great questions to help uncover the values, interests, hopes and fears that motivate the donor’s philanthropy.

Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite tried and true questions you can use to start great conversations with your donors.

       1. What inspired your generous support?

This is a truly versatile question that can be used in so many different situations.

It can be used on the phone with a donor when you're calling them to thank them for their gift.

I've used this at receptions or cocktail parties with major donors as a 

And, without fail, I really interesting stories in response – including heartfelt and values driven reasons for a donor

       2. What do you hope to achieve with your philanthropy?

Oftentimes when you're having a conversation with a donor, it's a little bit like peeling an onion, and trying to get to what’s really motivating the donor’s involvement, and what change they want to see in the world.

This is also where a follow up question can come in handy, such as “how is that important to you?”. Having a series of open-ended follow up questions can be very helpful in moving the conversation to a deeper level.

       3. The “next step” question

I have a rule I like to follow when it comes to meeting with major donors:

I never end a meeting without an agreed upon next step.

This might be a rule you’d like to adopt as well – it helps keep the momentum going, and provides a natural next touch point in building and strengthening your relationship with the donor.

As we are wrapping up the meeting, I may ask a question like this:

“Given your commitment to X, it sounds like a visit to see our XYZ program in action would be interesting for you – would that be a good next step? 

Think about mapping out some of your potential next steps when you are creating your donor meeting plan – these may change during the course of your meeting, but it’s great to have a few ideas in your back pocket.

        4. Is there anyone else you’d like to include in our next visit?

This is a really good way to make sure that you're involving everybody who needs to be involved in that conversation, because you just don't know if you haven't asked the donor.

There may be other folks who are influential in their decision making and their giving, like a partner, a spouse, or another family member.

Making sure you've asked that question opens it up for the donor to let you know if somebody else needs to be involved in their giving process.

Bonus tip: Why to avoid “why” questions…

Have you heard this particular piece of wisdom when it comes to asking your donors more strategic questions?:

Don’t ask “Why”!

So, why are we told to avoid questions that start with why?

Typically, why questions can risk putting people on the defensive, and leaving them feeling like they need to justify their answer to you. 

As you become more seasoned at asking great questions, I say you can take that advice with a grain of salt. 

If you’ve established a strong relationship and a high level of trust with a donor, a why question could be just the provocation you need to bring that conversation to a deeper level. 

But if you’re just getting started, you can rephrase almost any why question with a what or how instead - give it a try, and see if it works for you!

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