I have a niece who is four years old, very adorable and quite curious. We were on the phone recently and our conversation included her asking me “Why?” at the end of every sentence. Besides being reminded of how much fun four year olds are during the “why” stage, this exchange reminded me of how important it is to be curious in our work.
Great fundraisers are curious creatures! They ask questions about donors. They ask donors questions! They prioritize having a deep understanding about their cause, as well as why people choose to give.
With this information in hand, they create inspired giving opportunities—especially with major gift work. For example, if you suddenly have an urgent capital need that requires fast fundraising, it’s a lot easier to accomplish if you know that your dedicated donor, Steve, has told you he likes supporting capital projects. Or if you are a food bank that is starting a new community garden, and you remember a donor you spoke to who loves urban gardening . . . wouldn’t they be a great prospect for this project? Yes!
75% of your time as a fundraiser is spent—or should be spent—building relationships, just like you would with any new friend (donors are people too!). By asking questions, you learn about people’s lives, businesses, other organizations, history, and much, much more—you too are gaining knowledge and insights not just about a supporter but from a supporter. You are respecting what they have to offer. So take the time to get to know the person giving to your organization and when the time is right, ask them the golden question, “Why do you choose to give to X-nonprofit?” and follow with something like, “What would you like to see X-nonprofit do next?” The answers to these questions are invaluable. Now you know why a donor gives, as well as what excites them about the work you do. And by the way, your donors appreciate these questions. People like to be asked about things they care about.
When it’s time to ask the big questions, prepare carefully. Think through how the conversation might flow and write down your plan. You can even do some role playing with a colleague to get ready for the meeting. Most importantly, be ready to listen. Giving a person your full attention will make a huge difference in how much they reveal about themselves.
Lastly, always funnel some of your curiosity towards behind-the-scenes research too. Whether you have a wealth screening tool, Board member intel, or good ol’ Google—be curious and dig in to learn more about the person making a gift to your organization. Then take all of this information and spend time connecting the dots and taking note. With this knowledge, you will raise more money for the mission you care about most, and it will be a rewarding experience for you, your organization and the person making the gift.
Keep being curious.