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Ditch the pitch

Back in my fundraising days, I once landed myself a meeting with an exciting potential donor. Riding high on the waves of business success, completely new to philanthropy, he would make a fantastic supporter of our organization - if only I could get him on board.

Unfortunately, we didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. Our meeting got delayed for 45 minutes, and by the time I’d walked in and asked how much time we had, he told me, “Just five minutes.”


I had to think fast. So I did. And made a fateful decision:

I’d devote the next four and a half minutes to talking about… him.

Looking around at his office, seat of the incredible business he’d built, I asked him, “What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?”

Fast forward 90 minutes: his assistant knocks and tells him she can’t hold off his day’s schedule any longer.

In those 90 minutes, I’d barely said a word. I’d just listened.

And laid the foundations for a massively successful donor relationship.


Because by listening instead of just pitching, I connected with him on a deep level. I was able to give him what he really wanted - the opportunity to be heard. To be understood. To share the values that were important to him.

Which meant, of course, that I walked out of the conversation understanding him and his values.

Which I scribbled down as soon as I left the meeting.

I walked into our next meeting with this understanding in hand. When I spoke about my organization, I was able to do so through the lens of his values. His perspective. His priorities.

And when the time was right to make a more formal solicitation - he jumped on board with a six-figure gift. His first, and his largest ever.

Moral of the story?

When you’re building a relationship with a new donor -

Hold off on the pitch.

First, ask some questions. Find out more about them, the deeper parts of them. What drives them? What do they care about? What values do they hold dear?

That way, you can base your ask on their values and desires. And, of course, on a foundation of trust, on a relationship.

Fundraising is a “thing” because people have values. Because they care deeply about things. As a fundraiser, your job is simply to connect your donors’ values to the values your organization promotes.

How do you do that? By…

  1. Coming to your meeting with the right questions prepared.
  2. Making sure (if necessary) that you have permission to ask personal questions. You could even say something like, “Can I ask you some questions to get a better understanding of what you care about?”
  3. Listening, really listening, to your donors’ answers.

*Hm. Sounds good, Avraham. But what are the “right questions?” Any suggestions?*

Here you go:

  • What’s your story?
  • How’d you get to where you are today?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of in your life?
  • What’s one value you want to transmit to your grandchildren?
  • What would you tell your kids to get them enthusiastic about giving?

What questions will you ask at your next donor meeting?

Have a great fundraising week,



© Avraham Lewis & Co.