Some donor or prospect visits are effortless. The conversation just flows and a building a connection with the other person is effortless. Some visits are just plain awkward. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get the conversation rolling. We’ve already discussed that you need to talk half as much as you listen and you do that by asking open ended questions. To do this you need to have a stockpile of memorized questions that you rely on when the conversation starts to slow down a bit.
But what are some good questions to ask? Here are my four favorites:
1) “How did you first come to be involved with our organization?”
This is my all time favorite question. I will always ask it the first time I meet with a donor or volunteer (even if I already know the answer). This question is not so much about the answer as it is about taking the donor back to that time when they first became involved with the charity. The emotions they felt back then will be aroused and it’s always a very positive experience for both of you that presents the opportunity for lots of follow up questions. Sometimes this is the only question that I have to ask, it gets the conversation flowing that well.
2) “What excites you about our current programming?”
This question does a good job of transitioning the conversation from the past, and their original reason for involvement, to today. It shows you how much they know about the organization and how much information you need to provide. It also shows you what they like, and often what they don’t like, about the organization today. It’s a great question to ask once you know there is capacity and interest for the donor to support the organization at a higher level than they are currently.
3) “What could we be doing better?”
This is the tricky one. It requires some bravery on your end. If you ask it, you have to be open to the answer and willing to do something about their response. But it is incredibly powerful. The old fundraising adage “ask for money and you’ll get advice, ask for advice and you’ll get money” is certainly alive and true. People want to feel valued and be a part of the decision making process. Feedback that is received, addressed and followed up on builds trust and paves the way for increased involvement and support.
4) “Can you tell me more?”
This last question is my fallback question for those occasional visits where getting the conversation flowing is just not easy. If I’m running out of open ended questions to ask, I’ll use this one to try to get them to tell me a bit more about something. It’s a crutch. I don’t use it often but it’s reassuring to know that it’s there if all else fails.
I have these questions memorized and I will almost always use at least one of them in a donor meeting, even if the conversation is going well. If it’s a meeting where the conversation isn’t flowing well, asking these four questions will at least make it productive. The connection might not be there, but I’ll be able to assess whether or not they are a potential major donor for my organization.
So, find your favorite questions and always have them in your back pocket. You’ll be prepared for that awkward pause that eventually happens at most donor visits.