Top questions from donors (and how to answer them)

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, it’s no secret that some donors have a plethora of questions before they make the decision to give—as they should. The informed donor is one who feels connected and trusts an organization, which often leads to donors who give more and give more frequently.With that said, though, there are some questions that are asked repeatedly, and it’s these questions that are often almost certainly the most difficult to answer. Yet, if these questions are answered well, both your development staff and your organization as a whole are positioned for success. Here are a few tips for answering the common questions and ensuring that curious minds convert to loyal donors.

Question: Why should I give to your nonprofit organization?
The response to this question is more than an elevator speech, it’s an expectation that can only be answered if you’ve listened to donors and those who have been helped by your nonprofit and understand their priorities. Then, you can answer this question by explaining why your organization is relevant to the values of your audience and what wonderful change will happen when they give.

Question: What makes your nonprofit organization so different?
Competition in the nonprofit realm is fierce—in the U.S. alone, there is said to be more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations all competing for the attention and funds of loyal donors. It is crucial to the success of your nonprofit that all staff members can articulate what makes your organization different and worthy of a gift. Do not, however, respond by insulting competitors or peers. Instead, keep it simple and focused on three key points: What you’re great at, what you do that no one else does, and what you do that your audience cares about most.

Question: How are your staff and/or programs an authority on the cause?
This is your opportunity to toot your own horn—talk about staff credentials and experiences, tout any accreditations your organization may have and above all else, tell the story of your cause. Specifically, talk about the difference that you’ve made in someone’s life through your programs or services.

Question: How does your organization measure the success of its programs?
Hopefully, your nonprofit organization has metrics in place to accurately respond to this specific inquiry. Otherwise, it may take time to establish some. Pull together yearly laminated fact cards or even magnets with talking points for staff members that allow them to easily recall service numbers and other indicators of success in order to help them answer this question accurately whenever it is asked.

Question: How is my donation going to be used?
If a donor wants a break down, give it to them. Not only is transparency the best practice, it helps build trust and relationships. If a donor would like to designate their gift to a specific program or initiative, allow them to do so. If they aren’t familiar with all the programs or services your nonprofit offers, send them a care package in a box or a tote bag with information on programs, personal stories from participants, testimonials from other donors, pictures of programs framed in a branded frame or even slideshows and other multimedia on USB drives.

Question: Why is overhead so high?
The most cringe-worthy question of all, but also the most honest. The donor who asks this question is, just as you and your staff are, genuinely concerned that their donation is going to help the cause of your organization as directly and fully as possible. While we all strive for that perfect ratio, from time to time many smaller nonprofits simply struggle to keep costs down. This is part of a much larger issue, obviously, but that’s not to say that your development staff can’t offer an honest and candid response to an inquiry of this nature. Just remember, you fundraise most successfully by sharing the stories of the impact your organization is making—not by talking about budget line items.

The toughest questions often come from donors, but thank goodness for that. Donors that care enough to ask are donors that are likely to be more connected. Take the opportunity to answer them today in order to cultivate their relationship tomorrow.

Peck, Bill. “Repeat Donors Always Welcome.” Philanthropy Journal. Web. 01 June 2011.

Foundation Center. Web. 01 June 2011.

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