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20 Questions That Are Key to Unlocking Your Donor’s Philanthropic Passion

Ornate key and lock with blue overlay and the blog title in white text reading: 20 Questions That Are Key to Unlocking Your Donor's Philanthropic Passion

As a major gift fundraiser turned donor relations professional, I’m often asked when is the “right time” to ask donors for a major gift. And the honest-to-goodness, and totally frustrating, answer is: it depends.

A recent dataset published by CCS Fundraising found that approximately 48% of today’s major donors took at least 5 years to start giving major gifts, 33% took at least 10 years, and 7% took more than 20 years to make a major gift contribution.

While there were plenty of donors in this dataset who gave a major gift right away, the majority took a while to feel comfortable with the organization before giving a major gift. As fundraising professionals, which absolutely includes donor relations, we need to make sure that the time period from first gift to major gift is one of mutual learning, discovery, and relationship building. After all, as Nobel-Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found so artfully illustrated, our financial decisions are 90% emotion and only 10% logic. Let that sink in for a bit.

With this statistic in mind, why are we so quick to make the ask? And when we ask donors for a major gift without really knowing them, are we leaving money on the table? In order to ensure that the “courtship” phase of the donor/organization relationship is one where both parties truly learn more about each other, we recommend asking and knowing the answers to these 20 key questions before making that major gift solicitation.

For donors in fundraiser portfolios, consider asking them over a series of coffee conversations or virtual visits. For those donors not yet managed, consider asking all your donors to fill out a questionnaire—and then find a safe place in your database to store it!

Philanthropic Alignment
  1. What was your initial motivation for making a contribution to our organization?

  2. Has that motivation changed or remained the same since?

  3. Where does our organization rank in terms of your philanthropic priorities? Top 3? Top 5? Top 10?

  1. How effectively does our organization utilize contributions compared to the other organizations that you support?

  2. How well does our organization share the impact of your donation? How do we compare to other organizations you support?

Giving Style
  1. When did you learn about the importance of giving back?

  2. Are there any particular individuals who have influenced how you support nonprofit organizations like ours?

  3. When you are planning to make your annual gift to our organization, what are some important factors that you consider?

  4. Who do you consult before making a giving decision?

  5. What are some things that you discuss with this person or persons?

Recognition Preferences

  1. You’ve just walked into a room filled with people. What’s the first thing that you do?

  2. Tell me about a recent celebration that was particularly meaningful to you. What about it made it feel special?

  3. What’s the most meaningful gift you’ve ever received?

  4. You’ve just read an email announcing that you will be receiving a major industry award. Who are the first five people you tell? How do you tell them?

  5.  As we celebrate the generosity of our supporters, would you be open to being featured in a print or digital communication?

Communication and Engagement Preferences

  1. How do you like to receive updates about our organization?

  2. What’s the last story you remember reading or hearing about the organization?

  3. What was the last organizational event you attended?

  4. What staff member(s) are you close to at our organization?

  5. Are you friends with any other supporters of our organization?

  6. Do you currently volunteer with our organization?

  7. Would you be interested in speaking to <<relevant audience aka group of students, volunteers, etc>> about your experience with our organization?

I hope that this is a helpful starting point as you develop strategies to cultivate and engage supporters. Remember, all the best things in life take time, and that includes major gift solicitations! 

Written by Colton Withers

Prior to joining DRG as the Director of Operations, Colton served as the Associate Director of Purdue Musical Organizations (PMO). In this role, Colton led PMO's external relations team of donor relations, marketing & communications, and operations professionals. Colton came to PMO by way of major gift fundraising, serving as PMO's Director of Development from 2014-2017. Ironically, it was this role that further enforced his love for and the importance of donor relations: every major gift visit he had seemed to start off with a donor relations question!


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