Nonprofit Fundraising

Open-Ended Questions & Nonprofit Fundraising

Nonprofit management software / By Mike Crum

Open-Ended Questions & Nonprofit Fundraising

So much work is involved in getting a meeting with a donor. But really, the work has just begun!

How are your going to make the most your time with the donor? Moreover, how will you help the donor make the most of their time?

It’s always interesting to me seeing all the work that goes into planning a visit with a donor. There’s the briefing note that goes out to everyone involved in the meeting with the donor (except the donor!). Even if you work in a small Nonprofit and don’t use briefing notes, it’s a good idea to put things down on paper anyway. This note provides the logistics of the meeting, background notes on the donor, the donor’s giving history, summary of past meetings with the donor, and of course – the suggested flow/choreography for the meeting.

One area that is often overlooked and not included in the note, but which is central to a successful donor visit, is open-ended questions. You learn much more listening rather than talking, and open-ended questions are vital to a successful donor visit.

These questions are critical to finding out more about the donor, their philanthropic interests, how they got involved with your Nonprofit – and the list could go on and on.

Open-ended questions really come in handy when you’re working with fundraising volunteers or anyone not that comfortable with donor visits. Why? Because if the meeting is lacking the energy you hoped for, then throwing in open-ended questions take the pressure off the fundraising team. It’s the donor’s turn to talk!

So, what kind of open-ended questions should you use during your donor visit? I’ve found it’s incredibly useful to ask the donor how they became involved with your Nonprofit – even if you already know. The next question is why they became involved with your Nonprofit. Remember,
“why”, not “when”, which will elicit a closed and short response.

This next suggestion helped me land the largest gift I’ve ever raised – though it might seem illogical:  What other Nonprofits do you support? An abundance mentality, rather than a zero-sum game mindset, is essential in fundraising, and this question is magical. I’ve found donors open up and you’ll have a much longer and successful meeting.

You don’t want to come off as interrogating the donor, but another important question to ask is “what do you know about our Nonprofit”. I’ve found there’s always a tendency to think donors know more about your Nonprofit than you think. Then always ask if they have any questions about your Nonprofit. This response is golden, and along with the prior question, provides you and your team with incredible feedback to better hone your Nonprofit’s messaging and materials.

Of course you do want to provide information about your Nonprofit, but leading by asking open-ended questions of the donor energizes donor visits, and provides invaluable feedback.

Why lead with the stuff you want to say? Why assume the donor is interested in “your stuff”? Instead, find out what the donor is most interested in first, then target your remarks based on what you’ve identified are the donor’s motivational triggers (motivating factors related to making a donation).

A final note on open-ended questions, and this relates to Nonprofit marketing materials. All-too-often there’s a tendency for fundraisers and fundraising volunteers to hide behind any promotional materials they bring to the meeting – e.g. annual reports, impact reports, graphics, etc. Why would you want to divert the donor’s attention? Instead, keep everyone engaged and build momentum through open-ended questions. Present the materials at the end of the meeting.


Mike Crum

Subject Matter Expert

Mike is a recognized expert, thought leader, advisor and speaker in the Nonprofit world. Over the past four decades, Mike served as an Executive Director, COO, see more

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