I had secured a meeting with a big potential donor.

We were delayed for 45 minutes, so when I finally met him, I asked how long we had.

Just five minutes,” was his response.

At that moment I made a decision to devote four and half of those minutes to him.

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

He had built a fascinating business, which was on the verge of being sold. He was not yet a giver to anything. (Once in a while you will find yourself in the right place at the right time!)

Ninety minutes later, his assistant knocked and told him she can't hold off his day's schedule any longer. I had barely spoken at all. He had done all the talking.

This conversation gave me an invaluable insight early on in my fundraising career.

Successful fundraising is not about you or your organization. It’s about the person in front of you.

With just a few questions, this man received what so many donors really want. He wanted someone to listen, to understand. He wanted an opportunity to tell me what he valued.

By listening, instead of pitching my organization, I connected with him on a deeper level. I gained the invaluable currency of understanding what was important to him. And he felt it.

Immediately after leaving that meeting, I quickly scribbled some notes to remind myself what he had said. The next time we spoke, I was able to refer back to his values. I was able to explain our projects from his perspective.

Our connection grew.

When he was ready, a more formal solicitation was made. He jumped on board with a six-figure gift. His first and largest ever.

When you ask questions, you get to understand your prospective donor. When you do pitch your project, you’ll know how to connect to what he cares deeply about. Your ‘ask’ will be built on a relationship, on trust and shared values.

Fundraising is about the donor connecting his values to the values of your organization - an emotional connection. Asking questions is key to getting that connection.

I’ve asked many different questions to donors over the years, but the underlying goal is to get the person sitting in front of me to share a deeper part of themselves.

  1. Top Tip: Come to meetings prepared with the right questions.
  2. Top Tip: Ask donors’ permission to ask sensitive questions. You could say, “Can I ask you a few questions to understand more about what you care about?”

Here are a few great questions to start.

  • What’s your story?
  • How did you get where you are today?
  • What advice would you give your kids to get them into giving?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What is the one value you want your grandchildren to have?

What question will you ask at your next meeting?

B'Hatzlacha Raba Raba,


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