How to Determine Your Major Donors' Passions

Apr 3, 2019Donors

Discover-Passion Donors

I remember meeting with a major donor to discuss establishing a scholarship for students majoring in health-related disciplines. We were clear on the scholarship. What surprised me was the donor’s desire to honor and recognize someone who had been a mentor and very influential in his life. He named the scholarship after his mentor. That told me a lot about this person. He was grateful to those who had been a positive influence on him. He had the means to make a meaningful gift and wanted to give others educational opportunities like he was afforded. This set us up for the next scholarship he established!

Know the personal reasons why a donor supports your organization. It helps you understand them and their values and interests. Some reasons for giving may be:

  • They (or family or a friend) were in a similar situation and received help
  • They believe this work will make the community/world a better place
  • They receive ultimate joy in giving
  • They have guilt and are seeking redemption
  • They want to be viewed as a caring person
  • They merely want to give back and make a difference
  • They like the tax benefits

Pay close attention to see how your donors and prospects are engaging with your nonprofit. Are there indications they are curious about your work? What are they curious about? Are they attending events, asking questions, or following up to know more? Are they offering to help? In what area?

Your goals are to uncover your donors' passion and interests and know why each contributes. 

All donors are different. Determine a donor’s reason for giving. You can then better align future gifts with projects that the donor is passionate about and finds meaningful.

 How do you discover a donor’s passion?

 You ask!

For your major donors and prospects, you want to keep them abreast of news and events at your organization. Set up a meeting. Thank them for their on-going support, share an update, seek their opinion, and ask what makes them support your organization. Make it part of the conversation.

When you meet, for example, let them know you were reviewing your annual report and thought about them. There are many reasons you have for meeting with people close to your organization. Share how grateful you are for their on-going support and loyalty. Let them know exactly how their gift is making a difference. Explain how lives or the community has been changed. Let them know they are the hero.

Who to Ask:

Call or meet face-to-face (preferred) with several of your top donors. Start with those who you feel most comfortable. Consider donors from these categories: 

  • Current Major Donors
  • Lapsed Major Donors
  • Consistent Donors
  • Board Members

The Question to Ask:

While sharing an update or exciting news, this is the perfect time to ask them “what makes you support our organization?”

“You are so generous, what makes you support our organization?” 

“What excites you about giving to our organization?”

“Why do you continue to give?”

As an added bonus, you will learn a lot about how your organization is viewed, your strongest qualities, and your perceived value.

Phrases to Watch:

How your potential or current donor completes these sentences will help you confirm whether future projects you are considering for the donor is right for the person. Listen to the words they use so you can use them when you are ready to ask them for that specific gift.

  • I love being able to . . .
  • I remember when I . . .
  • I think you do a great job with . . .
  • This will sound crazy, but I . . .

Watch for themes and patterns. Back at the office, record keywords and phrases they used to explain what they are passionate about or what they desire to happen.

Always thank the donor before and after your conversation. Again, let the donor know they are the hero.

In summary, when you know your major donors’ interests, you know how to talk with them. You know the words and emotions that will resonate with them. You care deeply about your donors’ needs and desires to help those your organization is serving. You are building a relationship. Start by getting to know your donors better and building trust.

Share below how you uncover donors’ values, interests, and passions.

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides executive and development directors with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at nancy@nancyrieves.com.


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