The Most Important Question You Aren’t Asking Your Donors

by Joe Garecht

The Fundraising Question

Most non-profits know that great donor cultivation is the key to long-term donor relationships. When donors feel like part of your team, they want to donate, and they tend to give more, for a longer period of time.

Great donor cultivation requires a good communication strategy, and lots of conversations with your donors. Those conversations need to be two-way discussions, not one-way lectures… meaning that as fundraisers, we need to get into the habit of asking questions and listening (really listening) to the answers our donors give us. Donors want to know that they are important to your organization, and feel like they have a real relationship with your team.

There are lots of different conversations you can have with your donors, and lots of different questions you should be asking them. However, in my experience, there is one question that non-profits should be asking their donors that they almost never do…

“What could we be doing better?”

A Scary Question

Many fundraisers ask great questions and intently listen to their donors’ responses. They ask things like, “How did you first get involved with our organization?” and “Why are you so passionate about helping poor children get a better education?”

These are easy questions. Softballs. The answers are uplifting, and reaffirm what we do at our organizations.

Some fundraisers go a little further. They listen to their donors, they ask the “usual” questions… and they also ask their donors for their advice. These fundraisers say things like, “You’re an accountant. How can we better explain the tax benefits of making a donation to our non-profit?” or “We’d love to spread the word about our walk-a-thon. Got any ideas on how we can reach more people?”

Asking for advice is a good strategy. People (including donors) like to share their thoughts and expertise. Asking for advice is a great way to make your donors feel like part of your team. It’s relatively easy to ask for advice, though… it’s hardly a scary proposition.

Which brings us to the question that most fundraisers never ask… the scary question… the one that makes you worry.

“What could we be doing better?”

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone to Build Better Relationships

Chances are that you have lots of opportunities every week to ask this question.

Maybe there’s a donor that is passionate about your homeless shelter, and comes through for a tour to see your new food service equipment. Sit down with him after the tour. Talk about what you are doing. Then ask, “You’ve been part of our organization for five years now. As you could see during the tour today, we’re expanding, but we want to do more. What could we be doing better?”

Or perhaps there’s a donor who is part of the host committee for your big annual event. After the event is done, sit down with her to discuss the event. Then ask, “This year’s event was great, but we’re always looking to improve. What could we be doing better?”

Asking this question will take you outside of your comfort zone, because you can never quite be sure what the answer will be. You might find that the donor has some serious concerns about what you are doing. On the other hand, you might learn that the donor thinks your organization is doing the best job possible.

Either way, the question is important to ask. Why? Because even though it forces you out of your comfort zone, asking this question forges stronger ties with your donor. It shows that you not only value their opinions and advice, but that you consider them such an important member of your team that you are willing to open yourself up to criticism from them, and seriously consider their concerns and thoughts.

When you ask a donor what your organization could be doing better, you are putting them (temporarily) in a “leadership” role at your non-profit. You are showing them that you trust them. And you are strengthening the relationship such that your donors will be more passionate and loyal than ever before.

Are you asking your donors, “What could we be doing better?” If not, start today.

Photo Credit:  Cesar Bojorquez


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