3 Questions That Reveal Your Donors Stories

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*This is a repost from our partner Leadership Story Lab

Lisa Greer, author of Philanthropy Revolution, advocates doing at the very least a five-minute Google search on donors. This, she says, can provide “connection points to further your relationship.”

At Leadership Story Lab, I advise my clients to use the following Venn diagram whenever they need to be persuasive yet authentic:

Tell stories that intersect with your donors' stories

Tell the stories that overlap with a prospective donor’s stories, and you can begin to persuade them in ways that are authentic.

Tell Intersecting Stories

Telling intersecting stories is what we often do in relationships without even thinking about it. When we know people well, we tell stories that will resonate with them. We do this especially when we want to persuade them to look at something differently, convince them to join a cause, or even persuade them to check out a good podcast.

Persuasive stories enable you to establish rapport, build relationships, and earn trust from donors so that they see you as truly in the same tribe.

Interview Loyal Donors

To further understand your donors’ stories, start by interviewing your most loyal donors. Over the six years that I taught a Major Gift Solicitation Strategies course at Kellogg School of Management, I saw the value of having students understand their donors’ stories. I had students interview two or three donors who had supported them for the longest time and with the strongest enthusiasm.

The right mindset was paramount for them, as it is for all fundraisers. They had to ask the questions with true childlike curiosity, with an approach of “I’m really trying to learn something. Will you help me?”

They had to be prepared to be astonished by the donors’ answers. And most importantly, they had to be willing to change their minds and their methods in response to what they learned about who donors really are.

They had to become donor ethnographers.

So, armed with this mindset, I assigned three essential questions that every fundraiser should ask their donors.

  1. How did you first get involved?
  2. Why do you stay involved?
  3. What aspects of your involvement have been most rewarding?

The answers will be different for each donor and organization. The important thing is to listen and learn what this can tell you about those who consistently donate to your particular institution.

A New Passion: At an organization that is internationally renowned in the arts and culture space, a major gifts officer found that a longtime donor had become heavily involved in the organization after an accident kept her from an athletic activity she had loved. She was searching for a new passion, and this organization was just what she needed.

The Passion of Others: At a research foundation, on the other hand, it was the passion of others that a consistent donor found most rewarding. This person found the experts’ enthusiasm and engagement so inspiring that (pre-Covid), it prompted the donor to show up in person for every meeting, rather than opting to join virtually.

Leaving a Legacy: Another donor for an arts organization shared a deeply personal reason he stayed involved. The organization was his wife’s passion. After she passed away, he stayed involved to further her legacy. This illustrates why it is important to talk with donors one-by-one about their motivations since the significant, and even tragic, events of their lives can shape their involvement.

And after fundraisers understand why their donors are involved and what type of donor they are, they can use that information to create stronger bonds with these donors and others who may value similar aspects of what you do.

Want to study a major subset of your donors? Request an advance copy of Leadership Story Lab’s research, “Transforming Partnerships with Major Donors: Aligning the key values of first generation wealth creators and fundraisers in the age of ‘Winner Takes All.’”

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