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June 25, 2022
Preparation Is Key to Addressing Donors' Questions
Book - Questions Donors Ask
Good fundraisers know they need to address the questions on every donor's mind, and if they do it right they can inspire generous support, as detailed in The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks.

Author Harvey McKinnon, a leading fundraising expert with decades of experience, states it bluntly: "If you want to succeed in fundraising, it's essential to know the questions on your donor's minds. And the better you are at answering these questions, the more money you're sure to raise."

Perhaps the overarching takeaway from this short, 115-page book is that there is no magic bullet or mystery in fundraising. If you—as a volunteer, staffer, or board member—are committed to the organization, you're not selling as much as you are sharing your natural enthusiasm for the nonprofit's mission.

While your authentic belief in the cause is necessary for success, it's not sufficient. You need to know what donors want to know about your nonprofit ”“ and how to address those concerns.

For example:
  • Why me? It's the donor's first question, according to McKinnon. Donors want to know why you're approaching them. The answer flows from knowing the prospective donor, e.g., "Because with your past gifts you've shown you care," or "Because you're respected, and your support will inspire others," or "Because you know how big the need."

  • How much do you want? As the one soliciting, you need to think about the answer even more than the prospect. The right answer will depend on the donor's relationship with you, your ability to persuade, and the extent to which your organization's case is clear and inspiring.
McKinnon identifies potential pitfalls that every nonprofit and those soliciting for them need to come to terms with, and provides guidance that any nonprofit can adapt to its situation.

Take for example, overhead costs, a perennial issue that in recent years has received even more attention in the nonprofit world. McKinnon advises, first, know your numbers, i.e., the ratio of programming to overhead costs. (Doing so, he suggests, may inspire the organization to be more efficient.) Then, let your donor know you understand her concern and share how the organization takes steps to control costs. But always, when asking donors for their support, keep the focus on the organization's mission.

"To be sure, it's important to spend money wisely," writes McKinnon. "But people give for emotional reasons—love, fear, anger, correcting injustice, affiliation. These are what drive major gifts, not worries about overhead costs."

Preparation is key above all else. That is, fundraisers need to prepare for their work by educating themselves about the organization.

Increasingly, many donors, but certainly not all, want a say over how their gift will be used. A problem can arise if different people in the organization, e.g., the board or executive director, have different ideas. Clarifying the answer in advance allows you to address the question without stumbling or giving away control over what rightly is the organization's domain.

Whether you are new to fundraising, or have been at it a while, read this book. The appendices alone—on frequently asked fundraising questions and questions every board member should ask—are worth gold.

The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

May 2016
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