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Tip #61 Things Donors Want to Know, but Won’t Ask

In the midst of a fundraising campaign, you get accustomed to hearing the same questions over and over. It’s as if the same training protocols for buying a car or a house are applied to administering philanthropy, only rather than answering questions about warrantees or interest rates, you’re providing the details of prior year’s support and break-even points. Donor meetings can sometimes feel like “kicking the tires” of your cause or project. Once in a while, however, a donor steps outside the norm and asks a question that demonstrates a unique angle of their interest, or, a unique perspective on your cause. These instances are rare and valuable windows into the heart of philanthropy.


The following are some of the more unique questions I’ve answered over the years that (I think) are representative of things donors want to know but often don’t ask about.


Who is driving this initiative?

Nobody likes a one-man or woman show, especially funders. Donors are encouraged to hear there is support for a project outside the C-suite or board room. Even if a donor doesn’t ask, proactively sharing about the enthusiasm of others may help your project. If you find yourself referencing a founder or saying “I” frequently you may want to pull back and reevaluate your project and how you’re presenting it.


Can I meet with the other donors?

Candidly, a donor to a sheltered housing project asked me this in the context of having a “guild” of high-level donors gather at the shelter for an evening. He suggested they could gather, share ideas, and the residents of the shelter could prepare and serve the dinner. I wish I was joking. I’ll pause while you catch your gag reflex.


The desire to know fellow investors is not an uncommon desire from funders and, thankfully, it’s usually rooted in more humility than the example provided. When you’re heavily invested in something – be it emotionally or fiscally, it’s comforting to know the other players and their aspirations, hopes or interests. Be cautious of divulging donor data without consent, but when you have multiple interested parties, consider making the connection.


Is it passion for the project or stress that’s keeping you up at night?

This has to be my favorite “unexpected” question of all time. It speaks to the fact that donors care about the humans behind the cause, too. If you or your team is being stretched too thin, sharing the truth with a donor may be your saving grace. Donors tend to be savvy investors and business people. They recognize the need for infrastructure and redundancies. A candid explanation of what your team needs to succeed in reaching your goals in good health may expand your working capital as well as your donor’s interest in your work.


Just as you wish a car salesman or realtor would tell you ALL the truth and nothing but the truth when you make an investment, so do donors. Be concise, be genuine, and be up front about all the good you’re doing.


Want to go a step further? Check out this article on The Four Pillars of the Donor Experience by Lynne Wester.

Katie Appold

Katie Appold, MPA
Executive Director | DO MORE GOOD

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