Things Donors Want to Know, but Won’t Ask

Ever wonder if there are things donors want to know but won’t ask? In the midst of a fundraising campaign, you get accustomed to hearing the same questions over and over. It’s as if the same training protocols for buying a car or a house are applied to administering philanthropy, only rather than answering questions about warranties or interest rates, you provide the details of prior year’s support and break-even points. Donor meetings can sometimes feel like “kicking the tires” of your cause or project.

Once in a while, however, a donor steps outside the norm. This person may ask a question that demonstrates a unique angle of their interest, or a unique perspective on your cause. These rare instances are valuable windows into the heart of philanthropy, as well as the donor experience.

 The following are some of the more unique questions I’ve received over the years that (I think) are representative of things donors want to know but often don’t ask about.

Who is driving this initiative?

Nobody likes a one-man or woman show, especially funders. Donors are encouraged when they hear there is support for a project outside the C-suite or board room. Even if a donor doesn’t ask, proactively sharing about the enthusiasm that others have can help your project. If you find yourself referencing a founder or saying “I” frequently, you may want to pull back and reevaluate your project and how you present it.

Can I meet with the other donors?

Candidly, a donor for a sheltered housing project asked me this. It happened in the context of having a “guild” of high-level donors gather at the shelter for an evening. This donor suggested they all gather and share ideas while the residents of the shelter prepare and serve the dinner. I wish I was joking. 

The desire to know fellow investors is not an uncommon desire from funders. Thankfully, it’s usually rooted in more humility than the example provided. When you heavily invest in something—be it emotionally or fiscally—it’s comforting to know the other players and their aspirations, hopes or interests. Be cautious of divulging donor data without consent, but when you have multiple interested parties, consider making the connection.

Is it passion for the project or stress that’s keeping you up at night?

This has to be my favorite “unexpected” question of all time. It speaks to the fact that donors care about the humans behind the cause, too. If you—or your team—is stretched too thin, sharing the truth with a donor may be your saving grace. Donors tend to be savvy investors and business people. They recognize the need for infrastructure and redundancies. A candid explanation of what your team needs to succeed in reaching your goals may expand your working capital. Plus, it might increase your donor’s interest in your work as well.

Just as you wish a car salesman or realtor told you all the truth and nothing but the truth when you make an investment, so do donors. If showing a donor the return on their investment can help your cause, offering a personal look at your work can, too. Be concise, be genuine, and be upfront about all the good you’re doing. This helps donors feel endeared to your cause—and maybe ask more interesting questions. 

Things donors want to know

Katie Appold

Katie’s nonprofit career includes a variety of leadership roles for human service, foundation, and publishing-related nonprofits as well as many volunteer roles. Under Katie’s leadership, nonprofit organizations have developed new programs related to free healthcare, affordable and accessible housing and literacy programs for K-12 students. In her first Executive Director role, Katie increased the annual revenue of the organization she led by 300% and received the top grant prize in the nation for affordable housing through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis. Today, she leads Nonprofit Hub and Cause Camp, which collectively serve more than 50,000 nonprofits throughout North America. Her educational background includes an undergraduate degree in business administration and a masters degree in nonprofit leadership. Katie serves as the board president of Gracious Grounds, a housing organization serving individuals with disabilities. She is an active member of the Grand Rapids Young Nonprofit Professionals, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Cause Network, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

July 22, 2021

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