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Fundraising Toolbox: Answer Donor Questions With Confidence

You're pitching a donor. They're nodding, smiling, laughing at your jokes, and they're moved by your cause. You get more and more excited, your pitch is spot on, and you think they're ready to commit. Everything has gone perfectly. Then, they stop you and ask, "So, wait, what's your overhead?"

Is this a crisis, or an opportunity?

An opportunity, of course!

With metric tons of charity information available to donors, it's important to be prepared to answer these questions with confidence. Donors want to know that they're backing an organization that is transparent, ethical and effective, and they want to see hard proof.

Addressing these questions in person, and providing plenty of detail, is a chance to turn a curious donor into an excited, committed one. You have the opportunity to help your donor be in-the-know, and have a peek under the hood of your organization.

Ultimately, you want donors to ask you as many questions as possible.

Veteran DialogueDirect fundraisers love hearing questions. If the person in front of them wants to know more, it means they want to be informed and passionate about the organization, just like the fundraiser standing in front of them.

The first step to preparing your answers? Know what donors will ask, and how to respond. Four common examples are below.

Where does the money go?

One of the most common questions we hear in the field. This is really a question about overhead, and transparency. Donors want to know that their donation is going directly towards the cause, and that they'll be able to see the tangible results of their donation.

It can be tempting to shy away from going into detail about your organization's overhead percentage. Don't. Instead, lean into it. Talk about overhead openly, and talk about why overhead is important. Take pride in the fact that without overhead, you wouldn't be fundraising, and you wouldn't be speaking to your donor.

The #ImOverhead campaign, launched by the Charity Defense Council, has a great angle on how to address the question of overhead directly. You can learn more here.

Follow up on the overhead question by detailing how the donor will see the impact of their donation. Whether it's letters, milestone reports, or project updates, tell the donor when they'll see the effects of their commitment, and how.

Before the donor asks this question, ask yourself: How does my organization's overhead break down? How do donors see the impact their donation has on the cause?

Can I do this online?

The common reaction to this question is fear. It's fueled by the thought that the donor wants to walk away, and that they'll never look you up online. In reality, when donors ask this question, what they really want is to verify what you've been telling them.

None of us would purchase a commercial product without doing our due diligence and research, why would we discourage donors from donors doing the same?

Again, this question provides you with an opportunity. You can corroborate the details about your program with your donor, by backing everything up with information available online.

The best way to address this question: show them firsthand! Mobile technology is your friend, and it removes the need for the donor to go home and browse. Pull out your phone or your tablet, and have your organization's program page, and Charity Navigator page, bookmarked and ready to go. (You do have your organization's profile on bookmarked, right?)

Let them take a look and browse the site. This is a great time to hang back, and let the donor do their research. They'll have a measure of control over the conversation, and they'll have a chance to back up your information, but there's less of a chance that they will lose urgency.

Before you answer this question, ask yourself: what is the most useful information for donors on my website?

Are you paid?

This question is closely tied to the overhead question. Again, donors want to see their funds going towards programs. But there's another level here. Some donors carry the perception that a paid fundraiser is less dedicated to the cause because they're compensated for their work.

This is a great opportunity to shatter that misconception. Talk about the pride you take in making a living funding the projects you are passionate about. Talk about the importance of fundraisers who commit, full time, to realize your organization's vision. Talk about your accomplishments: the fundraising goals you have hit, the progress your programs have made because of the funding you've earned.

Then, bring it back to your donor. Talk about how your fundraising is cost-effective because of donors like the person in front of you.

Some donors are afraid that paid fundraisers see fundraising as nothing more than a clock-in, clock-out job. You know that's not true. Show your passion and make them believe it.

Before a donor asks this question, ask yourself: How is my role critical to the organization? How can I demonstrate that for donors?

Why do you do this?

This is a great question. For donors, donation is personal. It's a symbol of their relationship with a charity, and for them, this relationship is one-on-one. If they're going to commit, they want to know what inspired you to dedicate yourself to your organization, and why it's personal for you.

Be specific, not general. Avoid canned answers: "I want to make a difference," or "I love kids," are reasons we've all heard thousands of times. Talk about something personal.

Use stories. I felt the draw to fight poverty when I visited Haiti, in 2009. I loved the people I met, and I loved building things with them. But what I remember most is the story a nurse told me, of a baby she'd delivered, a beautiful, healthy baby boy, who had complications and passed after a few days. She said the only reason he'd passed was due to bacteria on the knife used to cut his umbilical cord. If they'd used a disinfected knife, he may have survived. That's when I understood what a difference the little things make. And I realized that I had the power to change those things.

That's why I got into fundraising. Know your own story, know how to present it in a compelling way, and donors will respond.

Before a donor asks this question, ask yourself: What is my personal "why" for fundraising? How can I communicate that succinctly, and with passion?

Be confident.

Be prepared. And when a donor asks a question, be excited. An informed donor is a dedicated donor!


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