The Art of Listening and Probing: Building Stronger Donor Relationships (Part 3, Plus A Free Download)

At some point during your conversations with supporters, you will need to talk about the types of gifts they are interested in and the gift amount they are considering. Be sure to ask—making assumptions can get you into trouble.

Wait to discuss financial issues until after you have explored their connection to your cause and reasons for giving. Getting to know their personal story helps build trust. Money and finances are high-trust topics, so it’s best to have a solid foundation before broaching them.

Be mindful of how you ask for information. No one likes to feel interrogated. Approaching donors about financial matters based on their personality type can be a good strategy. Stelter trains development officers on how to do this in our Relationship Building Workshop® using the science behind the DiSC personality assessment as a base. (We’ve blogged about this in the past if you want to dig in further.) 

How you steer the conversation will impact the information you learn and your progress toward asking for a gift. Here are three probing and listening tools to consider:

1. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions encourage others to share ideas, feelings and opinions. There are many different types of open-ended questions, but the goal of each is to help you gather the information you need to suggest solutions that fit your donor’s situation and goals. This type of question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. 

Open-ended questions can begin like this:

  • What…?
  • How…?
  • Tell me about…

You may want to guide the direction of the conversation by asking about a specific topic, such as:

  • What makes you feel best about being involved with us?
  • Is there an event in your life that made a big impact?

Or you may want to leave the door wide open and ask them to imagine a possibility:

  • What do you want (our organization) to look like in the future?
  • If you had the ability to make an impact on anything, what would it be?

2. Rephrasing

When you rephrase (not repeat exactly) what the other person says, you show them you heard and understood. Rephrasing can help you transition to a new topic by summarizing several points. It also slows things down and gives you a chance to think. To be able to rephrase, you can’t be thinking about what you will say next while your donor is talking. You must be listening to understand, not respond

Rephrasing starts like this:

  • It sounds like you…
  • So, you’re interested in…
  • What I’m hearing you say is…
  • Let me know if I understood you correctly…

3. Closed Questions

Closed questions ask for very specific information. They restrict the possible answers to one or two words. Always use closed questions when asking for a commitment.

  • Would you be willing to sponsor the event?
  • Will you sign the pledge card today?
  • Can we move ahead?

Free Download

Get more ideas for having better donor conversations with our free resource, “20 Questions to Help You Learn More About Your Donors.”   

Learn More With Our Webinar

Cathy R. Sheffield, CAP®, CFRE, CSPG, gives you the tools necessary to have conversations that yield the information you need to develop gift options for your donors in her webinar, “Discovery: How to Learn About Your Donors’ Assets.”

  • Explore the soft skills needed to truly get to know a donor
  • Review how to approach the discovery process
  • Cultivate a set of questions to really learn about the donor and their assets
  • Secure opportunities to continue the conversation

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