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.