Want to communicate better with your prospects? Learn how to ask better questions.

Want to communicate better with your prospects? Learn how to ask better questions.

A prospect visit comes with a lot of pressure.

It’s a precious opportunity to gather information and build a relationship.

But the lawyer you’re about to meet with doesn’t have time to listen to you rattle on about the next big project or next month’s gala. She’d probably rather you just made an ask and left so she can get back to work.

Meetings like that are common. It’s easy to show up and have a nice chat. It’s a lot harder to be present and steer the conversation.

Sure you got the meeting. But how did it get you closer to the transformational gift that they’re capable of?

The answer really comes down to asking the right questions.

Eric Vogt, a leadership consultant, did some great research on crafting powerful questions. And while he might not have had fund development in mind, his findings are perfect for fundraisers.

Why do we even ask questions?

Questions help us learn. They give us insight into what we already know. And the best questions challenge our assumptions.

For fundraisers, the right questions help us to know our prospects. They can tell us what someone values. What program they might want to give to. The right question can even illuminate an assumption that’s held them back from giving.

Building a powerful question

A lot of a question’s power lies in its construction.

Think of how much information a doctor would get if he asked a patient, “Are you feeling ok?”

“No” is probably not going to cut it in the ER.

What if instead, he asked, “Where does it hurt?”

That’s better.

Better still: “Why do you think it hurts?”

By tweaking the construction of the sentence, the doctor can get a lot more information.

Hierarchy of Questions

You can easily use this technique. Imagine the difference in your conversation if you asked a donor why she gave to the scholarship program instead of when she started giving.

Broaden your scope

Linguistics aren’t everything, though. The hierarchy can break down. Think about the difference between the following questions:

“Why is there cake in the break room?”

“How do we stop domestic violence?”

The second question is obviously more powerful, despite the first having a more powerful construction (and cake).

When talking with a prospect, remember that a broader scope can not only give your more information but intimate information.

Instead of asking why she supports a particular project, find out what it is about the project that’s inspiring: “Is there a particular community you want to have an impact on?”

Ask questions to challenge assumptions

One of the best ways to improve your questions is to change the meaning of your questions.

Look at the difference in assumptions behind the following questions:

How will this gift compete with your giving to the School of Engineering?

How will this gift collaborate with your giving to the School of Engineering?

Instead of asking if your prospect has any more questions, ask her, “Is there a question I should have asked you?”

Or, instead of asking what other nonprofits she supports, ask, “Who have you stopped supporting?”

Putting it all together

Try using these techniques to improve your conversations.

If you’re a major gift officer, you’ve probably got a list of standard questions. Try improving the structure of your questions. Instead of asking “What?” ask “Why?”

If you’ve just met your prospect, broaden the scope of your questions to build a rapport. Ask about why she’s philanthropic, not just to your organization but to any. Find out what inspires her.

And if you’ve run into a roadblock with a prospect, challenge your assumptions. Instead of asking how you can earn her support this year, ask if something is holding her back.

Or challenge her assumptions: “Let’s set aside the amount, what excites you about this program?”

Better questions lead to better conversations. Not only can you find out more information, you can provide value to your prospect in exchange for their valuable time.

Why are you interested in improving your questions?


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