As fundraisers, we must always keep relationships front-of-mind. Get to know your prospective donor (or longtime supporter) with High Value Questions (HVQs). General questions can overburden your prospects with irrelevant information and fizzle out their excitement before you establish a connection. No one wants boring interview chats! HVQs enable and encourage more authentic and dynamic conversations. When you understand perspectives, motivations, and priorities, you’ll be better poised to meet their expectations and forge long lasting and deeper relationships. The gift that keeps on giving! 

Here are some tips from friends in the field. What has worked for you in the past? Let’s Create Community for Good together! (Link to listen to a MG fundraising expert on my pod.)

1. Connection First
We can adopt some strategy from the for-profit sector here: Good salespeople aren’t worried about their core points or objectives; in initial meetings, they want to connect, not check boxes. A great tip from Joshua: Listen closely to what they are most interested in. Then, find a way to ask for their HELP first, not their money. Before an “ask,” you need a connection. To do that, you need to ask HVQs that will create 3 things before an ask:

  • Meaning – Give your relationship meaning beyond a monetary figure.
  • Belonging – Ensure your target feels that they belong at your organization — listen to them intently, align with their goals, ask for their feedback, make sure their core needs are met.
  • Memory – The more memories you create outside of solicitation, the more attached your target will feel to you and to your organization.

Your goal should be to get a sense for what drives and motivates your audience. If you already have that, learn about how you’re doing in aligning with their goals and how you’re managing the relationship. (Pro tip: it’s okay to ask directly: How are we doing? More questions below.)

2. Know Thyself
Before heading into an initial meeting, do a self temp-check. What are you core motivators – do you have a personal mission that aligns with your nonprofit’s mission? Be ready to speak about your WHY. Pair that with knowing how you communicate…. What are your tendencies? Do you talk fast when you get excited? Think about your reply while the other person is still talking? Bounce from idea to idea without a cohesive agenda? Be aware of these tendencies and try to contain them. Always allow for a pause in between speaking– this is where the best connections often arise. If you slip up, don’t be afraid to laugh it off: “Sorry! I am so excited to be speaking with you about this that I could talk for hours without coming up for air.” Be personable. We’re all human!

3. It’s About Alignment
Aila expresses the importance of alignment.  There’s plenty of work in the world and there’s plenty of great folks that want to fund it; it’s about finding the right prospects to fund your work — not just any prospect! Try to remember to come from a place of abundance in your initial meetings. People can sense desperation or inauthenticity. Come from a place of genuine curiosity and desire to get to know who you’re talking to. Let the rest play out naturally.

4. Natural Transitioning
Never underestimate the power of simply saying, “Tell me more.” If it is clear that a prospect is excited or passionate about something specific, it never hurts to dig deeper. Asking someone to elaborate can cut the anxiety out of the room and, as Alex says, open up like a flower. This is where the magic happens!

Once you have a prospect opened up, work them through a loose “conversation cycle”.  Use what they are sharing with you to lead the conversation in a fruitful direction. Here’s an example:

  • Stage 1: Intro/small talk 
    • Warm up the conversation. Think: What’s good in your world these days? What’s the best thing that’s happened since we last spoke? Did you hear the good news about ….? (Your goal is to get your audience into a positive psychological state in a casual way to open their hearts and minds for your conversation and to feel good.) 
  • Stage 2: Their story
    • Invite them to talk. Even if you already have a lot of background from your research, let them tell you first-hand. Think: What’s your story? When did you know you had an interest in your career? Tell me about how you came to find our organization? 
  • Stage 3: Their goals
    • Transition into talking about philanthropy specifically. Think: Why do invest philanthropically? Was philanthropy a part of your family tradition? How does our mission align with your values? What has been your favorite gift you’ve ever given to a nonprofit and why? Tell me about a time when you say your money go to work in a meaningful way!
  • Stage 4: Our goals
    • Finally, tie it all together with your organization at the center. Think: You mentioned [insert specific comments you heard earlier here], we do just that. I’d like to share more about it, would that be alright with you? What are you most interested in when you mention [xyz as it relates to your mission]? You’re an expert in XYZ would you ever be open to leading a workshop for our staff? What program of ours are your most excited about? Who would you like to know that would build trust in our work? How would you like to get involved with our organization?
  • Stage 5: Next steps 
    • Close out by planting a seed for your next meeting and following up within a few days. Allow the relationship to naturally transition from the getting-to-know-you stage to the actively-involved stage.
    • Know your next step and be sure to close with it – you are the guide! I think you’d enjoy seeing our program in action, would you be interested in visiting our campus? I’d like to look into a few topics we discussed today. Can we meet next week for a follow up visit to continue the conversation? Would it be appropriate for me to present a proposal to you next time we speak? 

5. Get Inspired!
None of us nonprofit professionals have time to reinvent the wheel! Talk with other professionals about their go-to questions and incorporate some version of that into your repertoire where it works. Here are some of the best High Value Questions from our conversation:

  • In three years’ time, what do you want to reflect upon as having been a success you can celebrate?
  • What are the qualities you’re looking for in a trusted member of your team? 
  • How do you best see us fitting into the big picture of your vision for your leadership and/or change-making?
  • How can my nonprofit support YOU? (Keep mutual benefit front-of-mind)
  • What is your favorite gift you’ve ever given to a nonprofit and why?
  • What connected you to the mission? (This is very different than “how did you find out about us?”)
  • Potential donors: How do you want to change the world? How do you want to make the world better?
  • Tell me about your experience with our organization.
  • Paint me a picture: Where would you like to be 10 years from now?

Are you planning to try any of these tips out in real-time? Let me know how it goes! 

Check out more HVQs in the podcast: Creating Community for Good wherever you listen to podcasts.