If you run a nonprofit, you probably spend a lot of time requesting donations, but in many cases, your pleas may go unanswered. What if there were a magic formula for nonprofit fundraising? A way to get current donors and prospects to say "yes" when you ask for donations? Well, there’s no absolutely foolproof strategy, but the right questions can help improve your chances.
What Do You Think of Our Organization?
Whether you’re giving a donor a tour of your new facility or sitting down with them at a charity luncheon, this question is a must. It gives the donor the impression that you value their opinion. That’s important because donors often feel like nonprofits or charities just want their money, but when you make it clear you want their insights as well, you start to foster a personal connection.
When donors feel an intimate link with your organization, they often become more likely to contribute.
That said, this question can open a huge can of worms. The donor may have all kinds of opinions (and they might not all be positive) about your organization. If possible, don’t let any critiques weigh you down. Instead, take those ideas as seriously as possible. If the donor is willing to write a large check, they may care about the cause just as much as you do, and their ideas might be just what you need.
What Areas Interest You the Most?
This question helps you hone in on the donor’s biggest interests, and that information can be critical when you’re drafting a plea for cash. To explain, let’s say you run a nonprofit that teaches people how to repair cars and then passes the cars onto people in need. If a new donor tells you they’re interested in the job training portion of your mission, you know to focus on that aspect of your work the next time you ask them for a donation. Conversely, if they tell you that they’re really interested in how you give cars to people in need, you may want to contact them when you need help expanding or improving that aspect of your work.
Why Did You Decide to Give to Charity?
Like the last question, this query helps you learn about the donor’s beliefs and values. Consider starting with a general question about their philanthropic history — usually, the answer includes all kinds of details that can help you make a more effective focused plea. Alternatively, you may want to ask questions that pertain specifically to your organization.
For instance, you may want to ask "Why did you decide to get involved with our organization?" What first inspired you to give to our organization?" or "If you make a large gift, what would your goals be?" Ideally, the answers to these questions can show you what’s important to the donor and why they give. You might find out about their childhood and about the experiences that drove them to philanthropy.
To illustrate how this can be useful, imagine you run a nonprofit focused on helping people who are homeless, and at one of your events, a donor tells you they are involved with this cause because their parents never owned their own home when they were a child. Now, let’s say that your organization currently runs a food bank and a shelter, but eventually, you decide to start a program helping people get downpayment assistance to buy their own homes. At that point, you remember that donor’s story, and you know just who to contact for help.
Then, What Happened?
Once you get donors talking, don’t let the conversation die out. So you can learn as much as possible, consider peppering the conversation with open-ended questions to keep the donor engaged. What did you think of that experience? Have you worked with nonprofits that do similar work? Questions like that can all help to keep your prospects talking and sharing.
Who Else Could Help Support This Effort?
Major donors also tend to have friends with deep pockets. To support your mission, you may want to ask about other prospects. Beyond knowing people who might be able to give monetary donations, the donor may have friends who want to volunteer their time. They may know someone who’d be perfect for your board of directors. Or they might be able to recommend an expert who can help with your latest challenge.
Ask these question both in regard to your organization’s general mission and in relation to specific projects. Whether you’re planning an event, launching a marketing campaign, or writing a grant proposal, your current donors may know people who can help.
If possible, as you ask questions try to track the information you collect. Smaller organizations may be able to do this by hand, but if you deal with a lot of donors, you may want to invest in some client relationship management software where you can track gifts, ideas, and other pertinent details about your donors.
Regardless of the questions you ultimately decide to ask, this approach has several major advantages. Namely, it puts the ball in the donor’s court. Additionally, this donor-centered approach to communication makes the donor feel valued and heard, and that alone can increase donations.