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Donor Participation Project Resources

The Power of Asking: How Questions Can Lead to Transformational Gifts

Asking the right questions is key to securing major gifts from donors.

According to fundraising experts Dr. Russell James and Jim Langley, questions are more powerful than telling donors about your organization’s needs.

Questions help donors define what they want to accomplish with their giving and find meaning in their philanthropy.

Questions also lead donors to make positive predictions about their future giving behavior, known as the question-behavior effect. For example, asking “Would you consider donating to your alma mater if asked?” increases the likelihood of a donation when asked.

Questions also help donors construct “personally meaningful philanthropic victories” by connecting gifts to what matters most.

How can fundraisers start these important conversations?

  • First, build trust and rapport. Explain why the donor’s input is valuable before asking lots of questions. For example, say you want advice from loyal donors or that the donor’s unique perspective can help shape your work.
  • Frame questions around the donor’s “people, values and history.”
  • Ask open-ended questions like “What would you like to accomplish with your giving?” or “Have you thought about how you’d like your gift used?”
  • Listen for clues to the donor’s motivation and interests. Then, suggest specific ways they can make an impact, ranging from small to transformational gifts.
  • Explain the difference their support can make at each level. This approach expands the donor’s “enjoyment of being philanthropic” and increases their lifetime giving.

While time-intensive, fundraising powered by donor questions and conversations yields the best ROI. Large gifts often have “instructions” on how they’re used, showing donors want to shape impact.

Though technology can enhance outreach, in-depth, interpersonal conversations are most likely to produce transformational gifts.

Overall, an organizational culture built on trust, listening, and meeting donors where they are will lead to the most meaningful partnerships. The power of questions simply can’t be overstated.

This approach may require an investment of resources, but empirical evidence proves that it pays off. The future of fundraising is building profound relationships with donors of capacity and care through the art of asking.

Get the full record of this Donor Participation Project session in our resource library!

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