“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”—Epictetus
My greatest lesson so far as a newly-minted teacher is this: the right question is more important than the right answer. Questions challenge, engage, and stimulate. They are invitations to a deeper understanding of something.
I’m wrapping up my first quarter as an adjunct faculty member in Seattle University’s Master of Nonprofit Leadership program. Lucky for me, I am team-teaching with Peter Drury, fundraising expert and Vice President for Mission Advancement at Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington.
One of the thrills of teaching fundraising 101 is rewinding my 25-year career back to the essentials. Peter and I recently role played a donor conversation for Planned Parenthood in front of our class. Our students were particularly interested in what everyone thinks is the key question: will you make a gift? It struck me that this is the least powerful of all the questions for donors. Once you are “making the ask,” you hopefully know everything you need about someone’s values, beliefs, and experiences to make the right ask.
The more important questions, the Authentic Questions, are those that lead up to and follow the ask. They promote dialogue and deeper understanding of each other and the organization. So what are these authentic questions? Here are my favorites, arranged by phase of the donor relationship:
At this point, you are starting a conversation with someone you know little-to-nothing about. Maybe they’re at one of your events for the first time or maybe you’re having coffee to introduce them to the organization. This is a good time to cast a wide net to understand who they are and whether their life philosophy could overlap with your organization’s mission.
Your goal with this question is to listen for their values, beliefs, and important life experiences and whether they care about your mission.
Your goal with this question is to listen for interest in learning more about what your organization does and how they can get involved.
Your goal with this question is to listen for ways to align their hopes, talents, and interests with your organization’s funding, volunteer, or leadership opportunities.
You can start by asking yourself this: over the course of a relationship with a donor, do you listen more than you speak? Whatever your answer, you can hone your conversational and listening skills by selecting one of the “Authentic Questions” to jump start an upcoming donor conversation. I have found donors appreciate these real questions, and they lead to great conversations. Try it. You never know what you will hear!
Do you have an Authentic Question to add to this list? Feel free to post it below. Want to chat more about your donor strategies. We're here to connect.