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9 questions to ask when getting to know your donors

9 questions to ask when getting to know your donors

March 22, 2023
David Snow

Relationship building is the foundational work needed for successful financial development.  The key to relationship building with a donor is to know the donor’s story. You’ll want to find out who they are, what motivates them, why they give to your organization and what their philanthropic goals are. 

In the early stages of your relationship with the donor, you should craft open-ended questions that allow donors to share their story – and then actively listen as they respond.   

Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent and then giving appropriate feedback to show you were paying attention.  

In the early stages of the relationship, focus on listening – not on telling your organization’s story.  The ratio of donor speaking vs. development officer speaking should be 75 percent to 25 percent. That will allow for an understanding of the donor that will enable you in the future to craft a message about your organization that resonates with the donor.   

Do current research on your donor, and don’t ask questions for which information is readily available on LinkedIn, Facebook or via a Google search. If the donor has had a recent accomplishment or milestone event, that’s a good starting point for the conversation.  Remember: You’re having a conversation with the donor to build a relationship; it’s not an interrogation.

Here are some questions, or variations of, that you might consider using to help develop your understanding of the donor:

  1. Why did you donate to our organization the first time?
  2. When you choose an organization to support, what’s important to you?
  3. What donation, to our organization or any organization, has given you the most satisfaction?
  4. What are your expectations of the organizations you support?
  5. What other organizations or causes do you donate to?
  6. Do you and your spouse have similar philanthropy interests?
  7. How much impact do you think your donation makes? 
  8. What type of legacy would you like to leave? In other words, how would you like to be remembered?
  9. Who would you say are the one or two most important people that have shaped your life?

As you get deeper into a conversation, it might be appropriate to ask permission to ask other questions, such as, “May I ask if you have ever considered making a gift directly from a tax-deferred retirement account to save on taxes?”

Remember to respect the donor’s time and express gratitude for the opportunity to meet. Follow up the meeting with a handwritten thank-you note and follow up on any issues that arose in the conversation that couldn’t be resolved at the time.  

Finally, be sure to record your newly gained information in your database’s donor profile.


David Snow

David brings more than four decades of experience in executive and development leadership in healthcare, education and social services. He is an expert in annual support campaigns and endowment development strategy, with the unique perspective of a staff member, a volunteer and a major donor. Most recently, David served as chief development officer of the YMCA of Greater Houston for 10 years, doubling its annual campaign to nearly $8 million, significantly growing the endowment and leading $50 million in capital campaigns. He previously led institutional advancement at The Dominican Campus (Aquinas College, St. Cecilia Academy and Overbrook School) in Nashville, Tennessee, where he led three successful capital campaigns to fund campus expansions. Prior to his development career, David was a healthcare executive for more than 20 years, during which time he was involved as a volunteer on a number of nonprofit boards and deeply involved in their fundraising efforts. David currently serves on the board of John Paul II Preparatory School, the Advancement Committee for Aquinas College and the Development Committee of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves on the capital campaign cabinet of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, Black Mountain, NC. David is a graduate of Indiana University. David’s favorite quote: “The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.” —Mary Ritter Beard