A Willingness To Be Transformed

Your best donors are those who believe deeply in your mission.  They believe so sincerely that, in most instances, your most significant donors are those who encourage others to give as well.  Perhaps they host an event for your institution.  Or perhaps they speak publicly or privately about why they give.  Or perhaps, they are willing to be a part of the asking process, authenticating the solicitation with a level of influence you or others at your institution may not possess.

These donors are willing to do more than just give generously because they have experienced something about your institution and mission that moves them.  They, or someone in their sphere of influence, could have had a direct and powerful, life-changing experience with your institution.  Or, they simply find meaning and alignment with the values that your institution projects into the world.

When you talk with these donors, you regularly will find that they experience their relationship with your institution as deeply personal.  They will tell you that their giving is of bigger benefit to them than it is to those you serve.  We often talk in terms of how a donor’s major gift might “transform” some part of our institution or program.  But, in a very real way, your best donors will report that they have been transformed by their giving in support of your efforts.  These donors personify the statement that is better to give than to receive.

Why, then, when we traditionally think about “qualifying” major donor prospects do we typically seek to assess only two variables that have little to do with their personal experience with giving.  Traditionally, when we are attempting to qualify a prospect, we will seek to learn more about their:

  1. financial capacity to make a gift and;
  2. interest level in making a significant gift.

Why don’t we also seek to assess the degree to which these prospects might be willing to be transformed through their giving?  We know this to be a key part of the profile of our most helpful major donors, so shouldn’t we be asking questions in the discovery and qualification process to assess the degree to which they are ready to be transformed by their own giving?

I can think of a few questions that would be very helpful in learning more about your prospective major gift donors and their willingness to be transformed through giving.  For instance, you could ask the following as you are working in the discovery and qualification process:

  • Tell me about the organization or institution that is at the top of your priority list for giving – why do you support them?
  • As you think back over all of the gifts you’ve made to other organizations or institutions, I’m interested to hear about the one gift that really stands out as being special to you or your family?
  • What was the reason or the primary motivating factor behind the largest philanthropic commitment you have made?

If we begin to integrate open-ended questions like these into our regular discovery and qualification work with prospects, I am convinced that we will learn more (and learn more quickly!) about our prospects.  When we work to identify those who are open to being transformed through their giving, we are assessing information about a powerfully-predictive variable for major charitable gifts. Unfortunately, researching your prospect’s financial capacity and understanding her philanthropic interests do not, by themselves, give us the best and most complete picture of how ultimately generous she might be.


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