Questions You Should Ask When You’re Face to Face Pt. 3 (The Meat and Potatoes)

In the first installment of this series, I suggested asking donors about the basic information and preferences that you should verify with them. Those questions are closed questions with short answers that you will use in your database of donor information.

In the next post, the questions I suggested were a bit more personal, and I explain the reasons why I think they should be asked, and why I believe they should be asked in a private and personal setting.  These questions also have limited responses, and should also be kept safely in your donor database for the use of your development team.  They should not be the topics of casual conversation outside the office.

Today, I offer what I believe the final questions should be asked at your initial meeting with a donor, and how you should ask them.  These questions are the real bread and butter questions to help you understand the motivations of your partner, so you can create a personal strategy for building a truly donor-centered plan.  You probably won’t find these answers online on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook or other sources used when researching your prospect.

When you start asking your questions, remember to LET YOUR DONOR TALK, actively LISTEN to the answers your donors gives, DON’T INTERRUPT, and TAKE NOTES so you can record the answers and store them safely in the donor’s private file.  

Since these meetings are held with people who have supported your organization for some time or particular level, start with a question like, “”How did you first learn about our organization and what we do?” There are a myriad of ways for an individual to learn about a nonprofit.  They may have read an newspaper article or seen a TV report about one of your programs.  Perhaps a friend shared a social media post about you or took them to one of your events.  Maybe one of your employees spoke at their church, school, or Rotary Club, and the partner was inspired to act by giving or volunteering.  I believe knowing the origin of your donor’s support is important, and can and should be celebrated in a donor-centered fundraising program.  Let them tell you as much as they feel comfortable sharing.

I see you started supporting our mission  in 2XXX, and you have continued to support our programs ever since.  What inspired you to make your first contribution, and why have you continued to support us?  Once again, this question is meant to allow your partner to share as much of her personal story with you as she wants, so let her go into detail about what drives her passions.  This is her opportunity to educate you, so let her share her story, listen intently, and take notes.  If there is a particular program that she cares about, make sure you put that in her notes.  Let her tell you what she thinks you are doing right, so that you can continue doing it.

Is there anything you believe we can improve on?  Sometimes, organizations have a weakness or make a mistake, but we don’t see it or notice it.  It’s good to have someone who cares about us to point it out for us so we can improve.  Maybe, it’s the tone of our communications, or maybe it’s a failure to respond to a question or complaint in a timely manner.  Getting your donor’s feedback, both positive or negative, is very important.  It should be valued and acknowledged.

Do you have any special skills or talents that you think you would like to share to make more of an impact in our efforts?  Getting your donor more involved with the organization is the goal of any development professional.  Learning what your donor has to offer, how they feel they can help, and encouraging them personally to take part in the cause you share builds an even closer bond with them.  According to a report published by, a donor who spends time volunteering with a program or special project is also more likely to increase their own financial contributions.  If a donor starts spending more time around the nonprofit, the relationship with the organization should only grow stronger.

Remember, allowing your donor to share as much about their personal story with the answers to these questions is an opportunity.  Let them do it without interruptions and record their story in your notes so that once the answers are entered in your database, you will have them to refer to when creating their personal strategy in the future.

I hope you find this series of posts helpful as you start arranging to meet with your seasoned donors.  I believe starting with the basic questions, and then working the conversation toward more personal questions will help make your donors more comfortable, trusting, and willing to share with you.  Remember, this conversation is not meant to be the big ask meeting, but it is an opportunity for you to learn about your supporter’s story and the motivation why they support you.  It’s an important step forward toward a rewarding and long-lasting relationship with your partner.

If you have any questions that you feel would be valuable, please share them in the comments below.

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Questions You Should Ask When You’re Face to Face Pt. 2 (Getting a bit More Personal)

In my last installment, I suggested some basic questions to ask donors when you have the opportunity for a personal interview.  Those questions involved the basic information that you should have already, but that should be confirmed by the donor, so it will ensure in the donor’s mind that their information and preferences are a priority for you and your organization.

Today, I will suggest some more questions that are a little more personal, and why I think they should be asked.  These questions are meant to help you identify issues that will help determine the donor’s capacity to give, and they can also prevent a potential faux pas in your relationship with your supporter in the future.  They are more personal than just confirming the preferences I wrote about last week, and they are meant to inform you and help you plan your approach for future opportunities, when they arise.  Remember that the information shared with you should be for use only within the development department, and it should not be shared with others to protect your donor’s privacy.

What do you do for a living and who do you work for?”  I think these questions are  important to ask for several reasons.  First, knowing what position your donor/partner holds will provide vital information about their ability to support your mission in the future.  A highly placed executive or professional will have a higher salary and more disposable income to make a potential major gift after proper stewardship is employed by the development department than someone in middle management or an hourly employee, although no matter what position a donor holds, they should always be treated with the same respect that all donors deserve.  You may find that your donor has a particular skill that may be helpful for a special project that your organization is planning, and this may allow them to get more involved with your programs. Knowing what company the financial partner works for can also open up greater opportunities for employee benefits like gift matching programs, and potential opportunities for event sponsorships, cause marketing, and other forms of business support in the future.  For many companies, corporate support for nonprofits is initiated by their employees, not by the nonprofit.  Knowing who your donor works for can also help you connect the individual with other supporters in the company, giving greater leverage for future funding efforts with the company.

Tell me about your family.”  Does the donor have children or other dependents, and if so, what are their ages?  This is important because it can also help you determine the size of a potential gift in the future.  If the donor has younger children, they may have activities that the parents have to pay participation fees for.  If the children plan on going to college, the donor has to put away money to pay for college, so the access to disposable income is decreased.  If the children are out of college, they may have astronomical loan payments that the parents are paying off, affecting their ability to make a large gift.  As my friend, planned giving expert Michael Rosen has mentioned on several occasions during our past conversations, having children is one of the key factors for whether individuals decide to plan legacy gifts.  Most parents rightfully put their families’ needs first, but if their children are successful by their own rights, they may consider doing more for your cause.  If a donor has no immediate family, the odds for obtaining a legacy gift increases.

Do you subscribe to a particular religious belief/faith?”  I know that some people may feel uncomfortable asking this question, and you shouldn’t ask if it makes you uncomfortable, but in many cases, religion plays a big role in why a person supports a cause.  Many faiths encourage caring for and helping others less advantaged than oneself, so it can be a factor in their giving.

There are also practical reasons for asking about religion.  Knowing about a donor’s faith can also help determine things like when or when not to hold a fundraising event, and what to or not to serve on the menu of the event.  Each religion has its own holidays, and knowing about the donor’s particular religion can help you determine the proper date for an event.  I recall Michael Rosen sharing a story a few years ago about a local organization that chose to schedule an event on a day falling on a particular religious holiday, that prevented a longtime supporter from attending, and that caused a rift in the relationship with that donor and the organization.  Certain religions also have dietary restrictions that you should consider when planning the menu for a fundraising event.  Religious belief may also affect whether a donor wishes to be acknowledged publicly for their support.  If you explain the reasons why you are asking about religion up front, the donor will know that you are putting their needs first and not just being nosey.

Do you support other causes besides our organization?”  Our donors are not one dimensional, and it is very likely that they support more organizations than just yours.  I find that it is helpful to know what those causes are for several reasons.  There may be opportunities to work together with other organizations on collaborative projects, and those projects may be something that the donor can get behind and fully (and financially) support.  As I mentioned in this post from my archives, if you are truly donor-centered, you may share opportunities to support programs that they are passionate about, even if they are not programs that your organization offers.  As fundraisers, our goal is to assist our donors to find the joy of giving, and believe me, a donor will remember when you help them, even if it doesn’t benefit your nonprofit directly.

In my next installment, I will offer some more questions to help you find out what motivates your donor’s passion.  When you ask them, you’ll need to listen attentively and take detailed notes.

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Questions You Should Ask Your Donors When You’re Face to Face Pt. 1 (The Basics)

In my last post, I discussed the importance of getting to know your donors personally to encourage a growing and lasting relationship, and ways of making that contact.  By speaking to them face to face, you create a dialogue in order to learn about them and what is important to them.  From the insights you obtain during your conversation, you may find the best ways to help them discover the joy of making a difference in lives of others.

Let’s start with some basic housekeeping questions that can make a big difference to your donor and their perception of your organization; contact information preferences.  In my opinion, this is pretty basic stuff, but you’d be surprised how many organizations blow this.  If the simplest stuff is wrong, you are already off to a bad start.

Let’s begin with the donor’s name.  Are the first and last names spelled correctly in your records?  An example of the problem can be made with my last name, Freedlund.  I have never had an employer spell my name correctly on my first paycheck.  I have had it spelled Freedland, Freelund, Friedland, Friedlander, and a couple other variations, even though I have had to show my driver’s license and other identification at the time of hiring and filled out paperwork correctly.  Consider how a donor would feel after writing their first check to your organization, only to receive an acknowledgement and (hopefully) a thank you note with their name misspelled.  It indicates to the donor that you don’t care that much about them, only their money.

How do the donors prefer to be addressed when you correspond with them?  Do they want to be addressed with a prefix like Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., or the gender neutral Mx.?  If you are dealing with a married couple, do they want mail sent to Mr. and Mrs. Jones or Bob and Betty Jones?  What about couples who keep their family names for professional purposes or couples who are not married?  I have had many of my peers complain that they receive mail to Mr. and Mrs. Bob Jones, even when the partner’s name is Betty Brown, and is written on the check they sent to the organization. Because of a simple mistake like that, another check was never sent again.

Are street numbers and street names correct?  How often has someone entered information in a database and accidentally transposed a digit and not noticed?  I know I have before, which is why I now double check everything I enter.  Many cities have numbered streets and avenues that can be confusing, along with thoroughfares like streets, drives, lanes, circles, etc., all starting with a tree or flower name, or something generic.   My parents get loads of address labels with incorrect addresses from nonprofit groups, making them useless trash to go the recycling bin.  Believe me, it doesn’t make points with your donors when information is wrong.

Email addresses should always be double-checked as well.  If you use .com instead of .net or .org, the email you send will not arrive, and donors might assume you don’t care enough to contact them.  Many times the mistake is made by the donor setting up an online account themselves, and that is why you need to double-check when you have this opportunity.

Do you have the correct telephone number and is it the contact number the donors want you to use, when and if you call?  Once again, it is too easy to transpose digits when entering information, so it is important to confirm.  Another problem is that people now have multiple phone numbers.  There are landlines and cell phones used by individuals.  People have home numbers, cell numbers, and work numbers.  Which contact number does the donor want your organization to use to reach them?  Do they want you to call their work number during the day and your cell after work hours?  You have to remember, there are a number of options to deal with, and the important thing is finding out which is the way your donors prefer.

What contact method is best for your donor, and how often does your donor wish to be contacted?  If you send newsletters and updates (and you should), ask them if they would like your updates or newsletters sent by email or snail mail.  Do they want them sent monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually?

As I said earlier, these are the questions you ask at the beginning of your donor interview.  They tell the donor that their preferences are important to you and your organization.  These questions also warm up the donors to answer other questions later on in the interview.  Those questions and why you should ask them will be in the next installment.



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How to Get Face to Face with Your Donors

Many of our colleagues in the Nonprofit Development field have told us, even pleaded with us, to create donor-centered relationships with our supporters and build their passions for greater support for our causes and organizations.  I absolutely, positively agree.  It’s the relationships you create with your supporters that bring them back year after year, and get them to share their time and treasure in the future.

While it is important to bring new supporters to the table, it’s more important to keep the donors who are already giving, and to keep them, you need to know what keeps them happy and find out what will make them even happier.

There are a few ways to find out more about your financial supporters.  I know of some organizations that use polls and questionnaires, either sent by email or by snail mail to new or existing donors that have supported the programs and mission of an organization.  If you’re lucky, a percentage will fill out the forms and send them back, but many do not.  It is a good start, but it isn’t very personal.

Other nonprofits will pick up their phones and call supporters and start conversations.  Often, though, the conversations are lopsided sales calls, describing how great the organization and its mission and programs are.  They don’t ask the simplest questions about the donor, and the call is essentially telemarketing.

When I make those calls or emails to existing donors, I ask to make a face to face appointment with the supporter.  I explain that I want to confirm the contact information and preferences the organization has in their records, learn more about them personally, and ask them for their opinions about our programs and performance and for advice on ways we can improve.  I make a point of telling them up front that I will take notes during our conversation, and that the information they share with me is strictly for the organization’s records and will help us in the future when contacting them about possible opportunities that might interest them,  and it will not be shared with others. I also emphasize that I am not going to ask them for money at that time.  If they choose to write a check after our conversation, I’m not going to refuse it, but my purpose is not to ask for money at that time.

When asking the supporter for that face to face meeting, always give the donor the choice of when and where to meet.  You should offer to meet at their home or office at a time convenient for them, (my preference for several reasons), your office at the organization during operational hours, or at a neutral location.  The donor should feel empowered and comfortable, not like a school kid called to the Principal’s office.  You want them to be comfortable wherever they choose to meet.

I also offer to bring a treat to eat as a courtesy, to thank the donor for making time for our conversation.  If you are meeting at your office around lunch time, offer to make them a light lunch of soup and sandwiches or salad.  If meeting with them at a coffee shop, offer to pay for their drink and a bite to eat.  If meeting at their home, offer to bring a dessert item, brownies or cookies, when meeting after their dinner.  You don’t need to go all out and prepare a five course meal, but a little bit of food rarely hurts.

Remember that getting the meeting is the important thing.  It is the opportunity to really create a personal relationship with your financial supporter, learn their priorities, and it creates the opportunity for your partner to find how valued they are to your organization, beyond their financial gifts.

Hopefully, this advice will help you get your foot in a door that is partly open already.  Soon, I will share some important questions to consider asking when you are face to face.



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Donor Research After the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

A few weeks ago, the media was abuzz with news that Cambridge Analytica, a business that gleans and analyzes user information on social media giant, Facebook, accessed and used public personal information on behalf of political campaigns in the US and Britain.  People were aghast when confronted with the reality that social media companies allow outside business partners to access their information.  They were angry that their information was used to influence political advertising and marketing directed at them because of this type of analysis, enabled by algorithms created by tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others.  They felt that their privacy was violated and their trust was betrayed by such manipulation.  I find that a pretty natural reaction.

A week ago, I took part in a webinar about fundraising on the internet offered by a well known consulting business that serves the nonprofit community .  One of the topics the speaker spoke about in his presentation was about using paid services provided by tech companies to locate potential donors on social media by looking for support given to similar organizations.  If an individual gave to, say an animal rescue group in their past and posted about it, they would share your animal group’s paid advertising on that individual’s feed, and then your organization could track the individual’s interest in your group’s page or website.  It’s a tactic that is used by many businesses and nonprofits alike.

When I decided to go into nonprofit development as a career, social media was relatively new, and I attended a number of workshops and trainings that encouraged using similar tactics to learn more about donors and potential donors.  Speakers encouraged nonprofits to Google donors’ names and find out everything they could learn about the people they sought to support their missions.  They told us to scour Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and other networking sites to get a better idea of their interests, their family life, and where they are in their careers.  They suggested using real estate sites to find out  where they live to determine their value of their homes to get an idea of their wealth, and other information so we could be prepared to approach them for an ask.  Even though it made perfect sense, it still seemed intrusive to me.

There are numerous consulting businesses that do that kind of research for a fee, and they have existed for years.   This can be an efficient way for organizations to work, especially large nonprofits and colleges with thousands of potential supporters.  There is a lot of information available on the Internet, and when you are dealing with such large numbers, using these types of businesses can be more cost effective than employing the numbers of workers that would be necessary to do this kind of research.  They are what big data is all about.

Do donors know that they are being researched by nonprofits that they might not have any connection to?  Is that research donor-centered or organizationally centered?  Do organizations even consider these questions when they use services like these?

Nonprofits need information to make the best decisions to decide who they should approach to increase their support, but to me, this seems a bit invasive.  If donors knew that many organizations use these methods, would they feel a close affinity to the cause or, like many on Facebook who were up in arms when they learned of Facebook’s partnerships with these data mining businesses, would they leave in disgust?

Personally, as a donor and a donor-centered fundraiser, I would prefer to get the information necessary to make these decisions directly from the donor.  I’d prefer to speak to the donor in person or on the telephone.  I’d ask them about their interests in the organization, how they decided to support us in the first place, get their opinions on our direction and where we might improve as an organization.  I think donors may be more forthcoming in a personal setting, and would appreciate answering the questions themselves.

Maybe this is why I prefer to serve smaller organizations, so that I can ask these questions personally, and get the answers directly from donors.  I don’t want to feel like I am spying on them behind their backs, because I believe that, if a donor thought I or my organization was researching them without their knowledge, trust would be lost.  Without the foundation of trust, what hope for a lasting relationship with that donor would there be?



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Going A New Direction

Originally, I started this blog a few years ago while serving on the board for a nonprofit that serves the nonprofit community.  It began as a way for me to share my knowledge and opinions about fundraising and its effective and not so effective methods for raising money for nonprofit organizations and schools.  By writing my articles and sharing on different media platforms, I was able to increase traffic to the organization’s website greatly, bringing in readers from all over the country and the world.  It’s an accomplishment that I am proud of.

A couple years later, family events caused me to leave the city where I lived for a very long time, and I moved back to my hometown to care for aging parents.  I continued my blogging, but because I was no longer serving the organization that birthed this blog, I moved the Greater Good Fundraising blog to, and eventually wrote a series on the Ethics of Professional Fundraising.  Many articles were widely shared by fundraising professionals and organizations, and I was greatly honored by those who felt my writing and opinions were helpful to the sector.

Unfortunately, I chose to step away from writing about nonprofit issues.  I took a job in a factory for a while, working nights so I could continue my family obligations.  At that time, I labored anywhere from forty to sixty hours a week, often until 2:00 or 3:00 am, and then got up in the morning to take care of family matters.  I had no time or energy to put into writing.

At the beginning of  2017, I came back to blogging about the nonprofit sector.  I have written a number of posts since the new year began, but it really hasn’t been the same as when I originally started the blog.  I found myself writing about nonprofit topics that took a political turn, largely because of the results of last year’s presidential election.  The observations I started making became rather judgmental because of the political, and sometimes hypocritical actions of many in the nonprofit community, and I strayed away from what made this blog an interesting read, particularly for newer development professionals, because according to much of the correspondence I received from readers early in the existence of the blog, I helped them learn about fundraising methods and donor-centered fundraising by seeing things differently than they had before.

Well, I think it is time to try a new direction for the blog.  Because I am fascinated by what motivates donors to give to the causes of their choice, I have decided to start interviewing real donors and ask them about their causes, their giving philosophies, and their opinions about what is right and wrong about the nonprofit sector.  I want them to tell my readers what is important to them, and let my readers know that each donor is an individual, not a stereotyped demographic.  Those I interview may be a local civic leader or celebrity, a private citizen, an elderly individual, a millennial or even a child.  I believe we can learn from them all.

I have noticed that many in our field of fundraising rely too heavily on demographics when attempting to acquire new supporters, forgetting that no two donors are exactly alike or think and feel the same way.  I hope this new format will give fundraisers and their boards something to think about as they consider their fundraising options in the future.

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Will They Forgive or Forget?

I was blissfully unaware of the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, until it was pretty much over.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media during the day, so when I started getting news updates, one after another, in my email from the Boston Globe, I read with horror about the violence at a “Unite the Right” rally, an event that included participation by the KKK and Nazis, I was appalled.  I started seeking out other sources to get further information and read post after post at various media sites around the internet.

And then, in one report, I found a detail that many of the other sources had ignored.  The city of Charlottesville had tried to cancel the event because they didn’t like the groups or their ideology, understandably, and revoked the permit.  The racist group took the city to court, and with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision was overturned because the city tried to silence the white supremacists by denying their constitutional right of free speech guaranteed by the First amendment.

The irony of Progressives’ money being used to ensure the free speech rights of racists hit me like a bolt of lightning.

A few months back I wrote a post about how progressive organizations had received a huge influx of donations from Progressives and Moderates after the presidential election.  Planned Parenthood gained 300,000 new donors in the last months of the year, and the ACLU received $23,000,000 during that time.  Donors did this to stick it to the new President and his administration.  I’m sure these new supporters thought their donations would be put to use serving Progressive causes.  I’m betting that few of these donors would have ever expected the ACLU would help the KKK or Nazis.

I’ve heard from a few friends who donated to the ACLU after the election on social media.  Those who are in my age group, early fifties to late fifties, were unhappy with what happened, especially the injuries and loss of life, but were mostly gratified that the organization was consistent with their mission of protecting the constitutional rights of all citizens, even those with unpopular opinions and ideologies.  While I don’t support racist groups or their vile ideologies, I will admit I was gratified by the actions of the ACLU.  Perhaps, that is because we remember the 1970s, when the organization fought for the Nazis’ right to hold a march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.  Skokie has a large Jewish population, and at the time, many of those residents survived World War II and the concentrations camps that exterminated so many people.  At that time, I couldn’t understand how anybody in their right mind could fight for the rights of people that awful, and I despised the ACLU for that.  However, at that time I wasn’t quite a teenager, and I didn’t understand that taking away the rights of despicable individuals or groups could set a precedent allowing the government to take away my rights or someone else’s right.  I had to age and mature to understand that.  Many younger people who gave to the organization are not aware of its history, as many schools never get that far in US history courses, and many of their teachers don’t mention these events, if the ACLU even comes up in the conversation.

The fact is, the ACLU is not an exclusively progressive organization.  Its support of the unpopular groups, both Left and Right, is in accordance to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.  That is their mission! German Lopez at has written an excellent piece about the history of the ACLU’s actions that will give you some more background that you might find informative.

The question that interests me now as a fundraising professional is, how will these new donors who contributed to “resist” Donald Trump will react to the news that some of the money they gave for what they thought would be liberal causes actually was used to protect the rights of a reviled group of violent racists?  Will they continue to provide financial support and hope that their money is used the way they want it to be used?  Will they only give to specific causes?  Or, will they stop giving to an organization that they feel betrayed them?

I have already seen signs that there is dissatisfaction on the part of these new donors.  According to the Twitter feed for the ACLU, there are some very unhappy former supporters.

Progressive donors have been known to punish nonprofits that disappoint them, although Conservatives have also been known to do the same.  I recall the reaction to the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood after a Congressman from Florida indicated that PP would be investigated for misusing Federal money.  Komen was attacked by Planned Parenthood supporters, and support from donors and volunteers dropped like a rock.  The breast cancer organization really hasn’t been the same since, and now, its chapter in Phoenix, Arizona is closing or has recently closed completely.

I hope for the best for the ACLU.  While I don’t always support some of the causes they support, I have found a greater respect for the organization, because I know that they are looking out for all of us, and not just some of us.


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