23 Questions to Ask Donors and Prospects

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According to Dr. Adrian Sargeant, two-way interactions (i.e., the donor talks back to the charity) significantly improve retention. As it turns out, being able to express an opinion is worth a lot.

Want to hold onto more donors? Ask them questions! Here are 23 questions to ask donors, prospects and, often, the predisposed:

Find out their values and beliefs.

1. Why did you first give to our organization? (Richard Radcliffe, U.K. legacy consultant says this is the most important question to ask.)

2. What interests you most about organization? Why? What is less interesting to you? Why?

3. Why do you give to our organization? How would you describe our mission? What does it mean to you?

4. What are the most critical results you expect our organization to produce?

5. What do you tell others about us? How do you describe this organization to others?

6. Why does this cause matter to you? Why now in particular?

7. What do you believe would most transform [this particular situation]?

8. Which other organizations effectively address this cause?

9. How does our organization compare to other organizations working in this cause?

10. If you had 5 minutes with our CEO, what would you say? Why? If you were our CEO for a day, what would you do? Why? (Credit: colleagues at AFP Calgary:)

Get in touch with their feelings! (Remember, emotions trigger all human decisions.)

11. Tell me about your life.

12. Share with me your life’s enduring moments.

13. What are you most passionate about? Why?

14. If you had a family slogan, what would it be?

15. How would you describe your personal mission?

16. If you could change the world, what would you do?

17. What actions do you think would best cause the change you envision?

18. What changes do you believe would make the world a better place?

19. What would you like to pass on to future generations?

20. How do you feel when you make a gift?

21. What makes you angry and sad?

22. What makes you hopeful and happy?

23. What was your first gift to philanthropy and why? What would you take with you if you were fleeing / evacuating? What are your dreams for the community? (Credit: colleagues at PLAN MGO major gifts training, Waltham, fall 2009)

P.S. – Decide which questions are appropriate to whom. Be sensitive to their boundaries as well as your own.

What questions do you ask donors? Let us know in the comments below!

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Simone Joyaux
Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is an internationally recognized consultant and speaker, described as “one of the most thoughtful, inspirational, and provocative leaders in the philanthropic sector.” She's the author of three groundbreaking books, Strategic Fund Development, Keep Your Donors (with Tom Ahern), and Firing Lousy Board Members. She is the recipient of the 2003 Rhode Island Outstanding Philanthropic Citizen Award. With more than 35 years of professional philanthropy experience, Joyaux has served as a chief development officer, executive director, and board chair.
By |2019-08-21T14:15:33-04:00May 1st, 2014|Donor Communications, Donor Surveys|


  1. Laura Neidig May 1, 2014 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Excellent post! In my experience working with non-profits, often too much time is spent talking about oneself; instead of asking questions about the prospective donor. Thanks for great food for thought!

  2. Leah Eustace May 3, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Great list! I did a seminar last year on how to gather stories from donors (and how to prepare for and interview them). I wrote it up here: http://blog.goodworksco.ca/speaking_training/how-to-gather-write-and-publish-your-donor-stories/, and included a long list of questions to ask here: http://blog.goodworksco.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Sample-GW-Interview-Questions-feb-2013.pdf

    Some of the questions are repeats of what you have above, and some are new.

  3. […] 23 Questions to Ask Donors and Prospects Two-way interactions (i.e., the donor talks back to the charity) significantly improve retention. Here are 23 questions to ask donors, prospects and, often, the predisposed…  by Simone Joyaux […]

  4. Evan May 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Good list. As a general rule, I always use the words “describe”, “share with me”, “explain” when prefacing a question to invite more dialogue and reduce the chance of a simple one sentence or one word response.

    Perhaps my favorite question, not specific to any one non-profit’s mission in particular is this: “Describe the most rewarding experience you have had as a donor.”

  5. Alix Sundquist June 27, 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

    Is it appropriate to ask a donor the estimated amount of his/her bequest to an organization? I have two non-profits in my will, my college and a foundation. The foundation has asked not just for a signed pledge but also an estimated amount of the bequest “for our records.” Is this customary? The college only required a simple notification. Please advise.

  6. Simone Joyaux June 6, 2017 at 7:33 am - Reply

    My university grciously requests if the bequest to them is still in my will…. and if I might estimate it’s value. I have no problem with that. And it was my choice to send the section of my will to each of the bequest recipients.

    What do others say?

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