Ask, Dont Tell: Power Questions that Build Donors for LifeBy Jerry Panas
Giving is a deeply personal experience. When you ask someone to invest in your organization, you have to reach their heart and soul. Thats especially true these days.
Even in a sluggish economy donors are giving generously but only to those organizations they really care about. And whether youre a professional fundraiser or a volunteer, its your job to forge that kind of heart and soul” relationship.
Right now you may be wondering: What should I say to a potential donor to create a deep personal connection with him? Actually, theres very little you should say #147; but there is plenty you should ask.
Strategic questions are powerful and help expose the heart and spirit of the person youre talking with. Penetrating questions breathe life into a persons deepest dreams. When you arm yourself with the right questions, you develop a totally engaged and productive relationship with the other person.
Sure, you need to talk about your organization and the people it serves. (How else will the donor know if your mission resonates with her?) But what truly motivates her to give is asking a few thoughtfully chosen and crafted questions...and truly listening to her answers.
Listening is the single most important skill in our field. Yet you cant listen if you arent asking the right questions. Buying a product or service may be a cerebral process. Giving is most often a visceral one. But in the case of both, its the relationships that make people pull the trigger.
The right question helps you get to know the inner-most soul of the donor and what matters most to him or her.
There are three types of power questions that everyone in philanthropy must master. Most people in the field have already mastered the first type. Theyre often far less familiar with the other two.
1. Giving Questions
These are informational questions to help you understand someones giving habits and history. For example:
With these questions, youre laying the foundation for the rest of your conversation. If you listen closely and ask the right follow-up questions, youll be able to advance the relationship. If you dont, you wont. Its that simple.
2. Passion Questions
These questions get at what people are truly passionate about in their lives. For example:
I recall approaching a donor on behalf of his alma mater. Because he had graduated from the schools engineering program, I assumed he would want to make a gift to it #147; but I was wrong. My assumption, and the abrupt way I had presented it, alienated the donor and almost cost the university a gift.
Only after I asked for permission to start over, approached the conversation the right way, and asked the proper question did I discover that he actually wanted to give to the theater program. That was where his true passion lay, but I had to ask the right questions to find out.
3. Legacy Questions
These questions help you expose the recognition the person might want and the legacy she wants to leave behind. For instance:
Giving is at times and with some people fraught with psychological and emotional undertones. Often, you function as a philanthropic therapist. You must ask the probing questions that help the donor reach into his own deeply held feelings and channel them into action.
You have heard the old saw You can lead a horse to water but you cant make him drink.” Well, you dont lead” a donor. You cant and shouldnt make them do anything they dont want to do. Your job is not to make the donor drink.” Your job is to make the donor thirsty. You do that by asking power questions.
Jerold Panas is co-author of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others. Contact him at jeroldpanas.com.