| 6 min read

The Right Donor Questions and Timing that Every Nonprofit Needs to Know

One of the top inquiries I receive from nonprofits is what types of questions they should be asking during donor meetings. In addition, I also often receive the question of when it is appropriate to ask a donor about their intended contributions to the nonprofit. 

As children, we are often conditioned not to talk about money or even ask people for money. Therefore, we grow into adults that feel awkward or uneasy about the thought of asking another individual or even an organization for donations.

Before you approach a supporter for donations, it is important to sit back and look at the big picture. Have you gotten to know the donor and their preferred method of giving? Remember, some contributors prefer to share their time and connections, while others are more likely to write a check.

Have you created a compelling atmosphere where it is easy for them to agree to make a donation? No one likes to be asked for money right out of the gate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about how they like to invest and contribute. You will be more successful in your fundraising efforts if you create an environment that makes your supporters feel comfortable talking about the movement of money with you.

Before you meet with a contributor or prospect, consider my top tips for asking the right questions at the right time! 

Tips for Asking the Right Questions At the Right Time:

  • Match Your Email to Your Intent
  • Ask the Right Questions
  • Timing is Everything
  • Words of Encouragement

Match Your Email to Your Intent

Too often, nonprofit organizations blindside potential donors by asking them for donations during a meeting that was supposed to have a different purpose. For example, when you send a potential supporter an email inviting them to meet with you to “get to know them better,” that is exactly what your meeting should be about. 

If you plan to ask a supporter for a donation during that first meeting, it should appear somewhere in the agenda of the email you sent them ahead of time. Many nonprofits use “surprising” donors with an ask for money as a fundraising strategy. 

Although this tactic may help you raise some short-term funds (because it puts them on the spot and uses the science of influence to your advantage) it is sure to prevent you from establishing long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Individuals who feel guilted into giving or blindsided are less likely to become repeat donors. As you know, donor retention is the key to building a sustainable future for your nonprofit! 

Ask the Right Questions

While the supporter is there to hear updates and information about the nonprofit, it’s a great idea for you to ask them some questions, too. Think of these questions as a sort of warm-up to help them reflect on their own thoughts and feelings about contributing to your nonprofit.

For the most part, the questions you ask supporters should be open-ended. That is, your questions should lead the donor to provide longer, more thought-out answers than just a simple “yes” or “no.” This is because open-ended questions are proven to help us ease into an open and reflective state of mind.

According to Forbes, “The benefit of open-ended questions is that they allow you to find more than you anticipate; people may share motivations that you didn’t expect and mention previously unknown perspectives.”

Check out the top questions I suggest nonprofits ask during meetings with donors! While making these inquiries, make sure you are paying attention to the climate of the discussion to ensure it is an appropriate time to ask. It is also best practice to allow each question to lead into a conversation rather than rapid-firing inquiries. You wouldn’t want your contributor to feel interrogated! 

What types of world or community issues are weighing heavily on your mind?

This is an excellent question to ease the supporter into reflecting on what has been keeping them up at night. Perhaps they are invested in a cause that specifically relates to your nonprofit. Or, maybe they are focused on something happening all the way across the world.

Either way, hearing what is weighing heavily on their mind regarding world and community issues is a great way to get to know them better. In addition, it may give you the perfect segway into speaking about your nonprofit. Even if this question doesn’t lead you to speak about your cause directly, it is still a relevant conversation starter. 

Is there a time you supported or donated to an organization, and you felt good about it? Tell me more about that moment.

In today’s society, it isn’t tasteful to go around bragging about how much money or time you’ve dedicated to nonprofits. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss those experiences if someone chooses to ask!

By asking the donor about a positive experience they had when donating or volunteering, you’re almost giving them permission to speak about their generosity. By speaking about a time they’ve contributed to a nonprofit, they will feel heard, liked, and appreciated by you.

Their answer will also give you insight into how they typically choose to give to nonprofits. Perhaps they like volunteering their time or connection. Or, maybe they prefer to write a check instead of spending time out on the field. 

Either way, you can wrap up the conversation by acknowledging their preferred method of giving. If you feel as though the time is right, you can even use this as a pathway to discussing how they can contribute to your nonprofit.

Is there a time you supported or donated to an organization, and it didn’t feel good? Tell me more about that moment.

Have you ever wondered what donors like and dislike about nonprofit organizations? Well, this question will give you that exact answer! By inquiring about a time when the donor didn’t feel good about giving, you will gain a clear view of how you can make them feel appreciated when they choose to support your nonprofit. 

Moreover, you will be given an opportunity to reassure them that they wouldn’t have the same negative experience with your nonprofit. While this question isn’t meant to bash other nonprofits, it does provide the opportunity for you to bond with the donor. 

Would you be interested in hearing more about ways to get involved with our organization?

Before you even ask this question, you’ll know if the donor is open to contributing to your nonprofit. If you’ve done your due diligence before the meeting to let the donor know that their “involvement in the organization” may be a topic of conversation, it is likely that they have already reflected on how much of their money, time, and resources they want to contribute.

When the time feels right in the conversation, don’t be afraid to ask them if they would like to hear more about how they can become involved! Most of the time, supporters who have agreed to a meeting are flattered to be asked this question. 

On the off chance that they do not seem prepared to answer this question after it has been asked, you can easily give them an “out.” Following up with “Or would you prefer to set up another meeting to talk about that at a later time?” will allow them to take more time to reflect if it’s needed. The last thing you want is for a supporter to agree to give money when they feel put on the spot or guilted into doing so. 

Timing is Everything

At the beginning of the meeting with a donor, you’ll want to take control of the conversation by telling your supporter about what they can expect from the discussion. Give them an overview by stating that you want to take time to catch up with them, hear about how they are doing, and also give them an update on the progress of your nonprofit.

Perhaps you also want to hear more of their thoughts on the initiatives your nonprofit has put into motion. On the other hand, maybe you would like their input on some strategic decisions involving the organization. If you plan to ask them about their involvement with the organization, mentioning it within your overview will give them time to think about what they want to sway.

During your meeting with a donor, it is important for you to rely on your intuition to guide the conversation. Instead of jumping ahead and asking for a donation, try to slow down and get to know your supporter on a more personal level. 

You will know when it is the right time to ask them about their intended involvement in the organization. Oftentimes, donors will begin to give you a hint that they are ready for you to ask for a donation. 

Words of Encouragement

When you’re in a meeting with a donor, don’t forget about the steps that led you up to that moment. They read your email inviting them to the discovery meeting. In addition, they are aware that you represent a nonprofit and a cause worthy of their money, time, and resources.

As such, the majority of donors come to meetings with nonprofit representatives ready to contribute. Furthermore, giving to charities has been proven to make people feel good as it makes our bodies release more oxytocin into our bloodstream. 

According to a study analyzed by the Greater Good Magazine, “when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.” Think of it as you are doing the donor a favor as well by inviting them to become involved with your nonprofit organization.

For more valuable information about fundraising and best practices in the nonprofit sector, follow my What the Fundraising Podcast! 

For more of my favorite fundraising tips and tricks, check out my Resource page! Here, you can find relevant articles, webinars, quizzes, etc. about fundraising in the nonprofit sector. In addition, you can subscribe to What the Fundraising for ongoing conversations about how you can fundamentally change the way you lead and fundraise. And to learn how to raise more from the right funders using the Power Partners Formula, you are always welcome to join one of my free Masterclasses at malloryerickson.com/free.

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