Curiosity is a fundraisers greatest asset. Yet even the most curious must learn to ask questions that yield the most insight into donor motivation and to link those propensities to institutional mission. The most important time to put structured curiosity to its best use is when meeting potential donors for the first time – including those who you are meeting for the first time even though they have given to your organization before. The rapport you do or do not establish with the donor at such meetings will be highly determinant of how the process unfolds, or not.
A fundraiser can begin to establish a rapport and put the prospect at ease by saying, “May I ask a few questions to ensure that we do all we can to relate our work to causes and purposes that you care most about? Assuming the prospect agrees, the most strategic question to ask is, “To what cause or purpose do you give the most, and why?” If the prospect responds by saying “social justice,” citing a number of issues and incidents that have dominated the headlines in the last year, the fundraiser would be wise to pivot to the social justice work being done, and to be done by their organization. Attempting to compete with donors’ pet causes, or being oblivious to them, will never be as effective as aligning with them because they are rooted so deeply in the donor’s psyche.
As someone who has conducted an enormous number of donor interviews and who continues to do so for various clients (in one recent week, I conducted 29), I thought it might be helpful to show how I get up for an interview and I ensure that I make the most of it.
Below is the advice I give myself when preparing for each.
Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020.
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