Donor Cultivation – How to Ask Open-Ended Questions

Donor Cultivation – Practice Open-Ended Questions

The best way to understand your donors (and prospects) is to ask them questions. But not just any questions. To really know what moves them to action, try posing open-ended questions. The kind that can’t be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ These questions encourage your donors to reflect on your organization’s mission while you gain an understanding of your donors’ motivations. Double win!

There is an art to asking open-ended questions and you’ll hone your skill through practice. Here are a few of my favorite questions to get donors talking about their interests and philanthropic motivations:

Which other charities do you support? 

An answer to this question gives you lots of information about a donor’s other philanthropic interests. You can follow up with research to find more details on the size and type of gifts they made to these other organizations.

What is a favorite contribution you've made and why?

This answer can yield great insights into mission areas of interest, but also stewardship preferences and the type of gift that resonates with a donor – did he help launch a new program? Save an established one from extinction?

Can we talk about where you are with your philanthropy?

There’s no telling what might you might hear when you ask this REALLY open-ended question. But that’s the beauty of it. You stand to gain info on long and short-term commitments and interests, family dynamics and other gifts under consideration at the moment.

Asking open-ended questions is similar in its delivery to a solicitation. You ask the question, and then you wait… and listen. Resist the urge to clarify your question by adding more details or speaking through an uncomfortable silence! Give your donor a chance to think and deliver a thoughtful answer. The insights and opinions he shares will be worth the wait.

And don’t forget the fundraising adage:  Ask for money and you get advice; ask for advice and you get money. Don't we all love to be asked for advice? To keep the conversation rolling, mix in some opinion-focused questions with your more direct questions about a person’s philanthropy:

  • What do you think is our organization’s reputation in the community?
  • What could we be doing better?
  • What do you think of our growth plan?
  • Who else should we be talking to?
  • What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of our newsletter?
  • What did you think of our event last month?

The open-ended questions I’ve suggested here are just the tip of the iceberg – development pros like you are inventing new ones every day. Which questions get the best reactions for you? 

Share your favorite open-ended questions in the Comments box below!

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