asking questions to connect with your donors

During a hectic work day where many can only squeeze in a lunch break between firing off emails, it can be hard to know if you’re making your donors feel appreciated or if you’re giving them the impression that they’re getting copy and paste interactions.

This isn’t something to ignore or worry about until later; good communication skills are invaluable to your nonprofit’s income stream. Part of that communication involves demonstrating genuine interest on your part. 

That’s why you need to chart your donor lists carefully. You need to focus the proverbial telescope on the unique individual behind each act of generosity. 

Easier said than done, right? Well, I don’t think it’s that hard. I believe it comes down to asking interesting questions and paying attention to the information coming back to you. Once you know how your donors are feeling, update your communication and fundraising strategies. You’ll drive better engagement and create a collaborative environment.

Donors know that there’s a business end to the interactions, but they also have a sixth sense for sincerity. That’s the goal: Make sure they know that you sincerely appreciate their support. 

Begin with the basics: good organization and categorization. 

Getting your donor lists in order is an ongoing task. I compare it to routine automotive maintenance; it’s crucially important, but it’s not necessarily the most engaging activity. 

The unavoidable truth though is that it’s the lightning rod for overall organizational health. The filing cabinets filled with colored alphabetical dividers may be being replaced by folders or spreadsheets on your computer, but that information needs to be organized in order to be used effectively.

Bloomerang’s core aim aligns well to this complicated task. Having a software that stores, organizes, and analyzes your data will give you and your team the breathing room to go ahead and make use of other talents.

Smart software helps you use your most precious resources more effectively. Check out more about donor list management

How to become a better communicator through questioning

After organizing your data, it’s time to strengthen connections with the support base. One way to do that is through questioning. 

Questioning: making a personal connection through emails

If you approach your supporters as if you already know them, you may come across as insincere or even patronizing. 

I believe it’s better to admit when you don’t know someone. The lack of information is where genuine interest builds, which helps you develop deeper relationships.

My preferred method to get to know your donors is through what I call the questionable method. The title is tongue-in-cheek, but the idea is built on fundamentals: Fostering personal relationships starts with asking the right questions. This is how you’ll learn about the various groupings, ages, and interests of your supporters, which will then help you effectively craft the right kind message that will turn them into long-term donors.

Asking questions does a few things: 

  • It starts a dialogue.
  • It fills in the blanks and fleshes out your donor lists. 
  • It opens up leads to new support.

Where to start when questioning your supporters 

Don’t be afraid of small talk. Some people say skip it; I say dive in! Most people have the good grace to entertain a little back and forth, and this is your opening. 

Here’s my list of ten potential questions to springboard from. They are a little out of left field, but that’s the point. Just be sure to frame the questions within the right context, otherwise they’ll stand out like a sore thumb. Mix them up and be inventive. 

Here are those questions: 

  • What’s your number one priority right now?
  • What defines your future plans?
  • I’m trying to be more grateful for each day—do you have any tips? What does gratitude mean to you?
  • How would others describe you?
  • If you had to pick one person, who would be your role model?
  • How’s work? Are you currently at your dream job?
  • Do you have any recommendations for new movies or books? 
  • What’s your proudest accomplishment? 
  • What advice do you give young people?
  • What is the greatest fear you’ve overcome?

This is a list of ten questions, but one or two is enough in one email. The key is to pay attention to what your donor says in response. That will organically open you up for further engagement. 

No-go zones 

It goes without saying that you should probably avoid political, religious, and sexual questions. Keep your communication completely professional.

Make it clear to your supporters that you’re asking these questions to better connect with them. 

Be an active listener. 

It’s no good asking the right questions if you lack the skills to listen to the answers. When I learn a piece of information about someone I’m getting to know, I wait until the right moment to ask why? Why takes a simple statement and draws it out to something more.

Using informal questions is also a useful way to enhance your relationship with your donors. You can’t do this all the time, but occasionally it’s worth expanding your knowledge about the individuals you rely on. They’ll appreciate the interest, and you’ll develop fuller relationships with your donors. 

Give it a go and see how this method stands out against the sea of automated inquiries and automaton responses. You just have to show you’re engaged and interested, and your donors will respond to your genuine show of interest. 

If we want donors to understand us, we have to start by understanding them.
This eBook will review some great donor discovery steps, best practices, and questions you should ask to build rapport with and understand your donors with a donor-centered approach.

Nick Wood

Nick Wood

Freelance Journalist & Author
Nick Wood is a freelance journalist and author. Specializing in the nonprofit Industry, digital media, and the travel sector. With years of experience working within the industry on the ground in the UK and further afield. Founder of light-on-light, a project addressing the stories of individuals and organisations making a positive and intentional impact on society. For enquiries, nickjohnwood@mail.com.