15 Donor Conversation Starters

15 Conversation Starters With Your Donors

We always say that in Planned Giving, people skills are far more important than technical skills. Why? Because people give to people, not to institutions.

Yet sometimes, even the most socially adept among us need a little help to get the conversation started. That’s why we’ve developed these 15 Donor Conversation Starters. Use them the next time you meet with a donor or prospect. Along with the 31 Quality Questions To Ask Donors, they’ll help break the ice, establish trust, and get you started on the path to building a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship. 


Are you named after someone in your family?
This will give you a glimpse into the donor’s family life, and give them a chance to talk about someone who may have been important to them. Side note: Be sure to write your donor’s name down, and ask for the correct spelling.


Where did you grow up?

People generally like talking about themselves, and a glimpse into their past can reveal a lot about their motives and beliefs. That’s why this is always one of the best donor conversation starters.


What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

This is an especially poignant question for older donors, but we’ve all seen something that’s affected us and our outlook on life.


Who knows you better than anyone else, and why?
This can show you who made a difference in your donor’s life; who’s truly important to them.


Do you or your family have any favorite traditions?

This is one of those donor conversation starters that  will give you some insight into the most important events and people in your donor’s life.


What are you reading? What is your favorite book/who is your favorite author?

This is a great question for folks who love to read, and their answers can reveal a lot about their personality and what’s important to them. If they’re not readers, that’s OK—you just learned something else about them.


What do you like to do to relax?
Believe it or not, this question can reveal a lot about your donor. You can learn whether they’re a workaholic, if they enjoy getting outdoors, the arts, sitcoms, sports ….


If you could change one thing about (situation that affects world, mission, etc.), what would it be?

By finding out what your donor values, you can find out how to help them create a legacy.


What keeps you awake at night?
You might get the same answer as above, or you might learn something new.


What drew you to (your organization)?

This is one of the most important donor conversation starters in your arsenal. Good stewardship starts with finding out what’s important to the donor or prospect, and why they might want to help your organization.


How do you view your financial future as you age?
This will help the donor focus on the three finance “buckets”: needs (needed to survive), wants (something useful or lacking, but not necessary), and desires (more like a goal). As each bucket fills, the runoff flows to the next bucket. Find out which bucket the donor’s philanthropy falls into—wants, or desires.


What is something you’d like to see your gift (and/or the organization) accomplish?

This question will help reveal any areas a donor would like to focus on, and can help you further structure a planned gift.


“Would you rather” questions. For instance, “Would you rather vacation in the mountains, or on the beach, and why?”

This is one of those off-beat donor conversation starters that can reveal a little more about your donor’s personality than more mundane questions.


What’s the most important value you think people should hold? Honesty, kindness, empathy, integrity, something else?
This is an opportunity for your donor to tell you exactly what they value.


What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your legacy to be?
This will help your donor decide how they want to invest in their legacy.

Donor Conversation Starters: Last Notes

Remember to ask Open-Ended Questions

Some people are tough to crack. Given the chance, they’ll give monosyllabic answers instead of detailed replies. That’s why phrasing is important. Sometimes, leading or open-ended questions produce better answers:

  • “That must have been amazing! Can you describe for me how it made you feel?”
  • “That must have been difficult. What was the biggest challenge of getting through it?”

Ask some quirky questions.

Sometimes, to let the subject’s personality really shine through, you may want to ask quirky questions, such as, “What’s your favorite TV show? What kind of music do you like? What’s your favorite meal? What’s your favorite color? Do you prefer vanilla or chocolate? Are you a dog person or a cat person?”

Categories: Stewardship, Relationships

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