I think it’s fair to say that major donor work remains somewhat of a mystery in many nonprofits. They’d like to do major gift fundraising, but they don’t know where to begin. What if I were to say that while you’re developing your major gift program, why not just go out there and start talking to prospects?

Not too long ago I spoke to a nonprofit director who had been working on creating a major gift program for months, and not much else was happening. She worked on a strategic plan with her team, research, the development of a major gift moves management system and other elements, but no one had yet had a face-to-face meeting with a major donor prospect. All of the work she was doing was essential, but I asked her why not just go out and begin to have conversations?

It was then that I realized that sometimes nonprofit teams don’t know what to do to begin a conversation with a major gift prospect. So, here are open-ended questions you can ask in a phone call or meeting just to start developing a relationship. Major gift work begins with a conversation, and at some point, you have to start the dialogue.

Questions to Get to Know the Prospect

  • Where did you grow up?
  • How did you get to where you are today?
  • What are the most important values you wish to impart to your children?
  • What was the best decision you made in life or business?
  • What are you most passionate about in your life?

Questions About Their Philanthropy

  • What causes resonate most with you?
  • What was the best gift you ever gave and why?
  • What inspired you to become a philanthropist?
  • What are your top giving priorities?
  • How do you think nonprofits should do to increase their work with major donors?

Questions About Your Nonprofit

  • Why did you first starting giving to our organization?
  • What would you like to see us achieve in the next one to three years?
  • Who else should we be talking to in our community?
  • What do you tell others about us?
  • What do you think the view of our nonprofit is in the community?

Questions for Advice

  • What can we do to get you more actively involved in our nonprofit?
  • What are the results you expect from us?
  • What is the core reason that you continue to support our nonprofit?
  • Would you consider becoming a board member?
  • We’d like to invite you to (e.g., a meeting with the CEO, major donor event, etc.).

Finally, don’t forget something that is more of an art in fundraising than a science. Major donors are interested in getting to meet other major donors. Most of us assume that business and community leaders all travel in the same circles. While that could be true, sometimes it’s not accurate. If you believe that a major donor might be interested in meeting another donor, create the opportunity for them. Remember, people may want to meet each other, potentially, for business or social purposes (e.g., the children may be in the same sport, or they have a similar interest). Make it a point to create an opportunity where you can make an introduction for them.