top of page

Four Questions to Change Donor Conversations

Updated: May 9, 2021

Guest Blog: From time to time, industry leaders, experts and generally inspiring people will share their thoughts on this blog. Noted tech leader and cultural advocate Karen Mangia sheds light on relationship management with donors from her unique vantage point. Karen is an internationally recognized thought leader whose TEDx appearance, keynotes, blogs and books reach hundreds of thousands of business leaders each year. She is the author of Working from Home: Making the New Normal Work for You (Wiley), Listen Up! How to Tune in to Customers and Turn Down the Noise (Wiley) and also Success With Less (Marie Street Press). Karen currently serves as Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce.

Each year I receive 50 to 75 donation requests from well-intended nonprofits representing a myriad of worthwhile causes. The five dollar to five-figure requests result as much from my passion for personal philanthropy as from my role at a big company with deep pockets and a highly publicized core value of giving back.

Back of the napkin math indicates I’ve interacted with over 100 giving officers throughout my philanthropy journey. Several unexpectedly became treasured personal friends while others faded to relative obscurity.

What separates relationship from relegate? And, in increasingly uncertain times, how do you win at the game of donor deal or no deal?

Instead of playing a game of chance – hoping to unlock the one briefcase stacked with cash – let’s look at some of the top questions that can help you to open up the conversation and make valuable discoveries. While not intended as a checklist, these questions can help you connect more deeply with new and prospective donors.

1. If I could only deliver one message to our top executives (or Board of Directors) on your behalf, what would it be? Do you know what matters most to your donors? That’s the answer that they will provide if this question is asked with sincerity. This open-ended question is powerful on three levels:

· It lends itself to easily extracting stories and quotes to share.

· The question points toward what you’re not asking about but should be.

· Key themes emerge: Count how many times a theme or phrase shows up. Does this repeated sentiment reflect a complaint, problem or possibility? Whatever your answer, you’ve just discovered a blind spot.

2. What are we missing? Unstated expectations will always go unmet. Doesn’t it make sense to find out more about your donor’s hidden expectations? This open-ended question shows whether your touchpoints are making a mark – or missing it.

3. Who does this better than we do and why? Think you know who your competition is? Better ask your donor. And don’t be afraid to look outside your current industry for answers. Don’t discount that valuable piece of information, even if it means investigating an organization you don’t consider to be a competitor today. Taking a limited view of your sector and your competitors isn’t going to help you expand and innovate. Innovation lies with best-of-breed organizations, and maybe – just maybe – those best practices are found outside of your orbit. Are you willing to look?

4. What could we work on together that would be exciting to you? In our modern culture, donors are focused on expansive opportunities, possibilities and potential – not nuisance, nagging, and anguish. True, all organizations have difficulties, shortcomings, and challenges. But what’s the line of questioning that will open up the dialogue about what’s possible? Pointing donors toward pain is never as enticing or as informative as asking about what excites them. Have you found your donor’s higher cause? Have you considered the “why” behind your donor’s interaction with you?

The art of the ask is, at its core, the art of connection through conversation. And when you change your conversation, you change your results.

In an upcoming encore performance, we’ll explore “Four Questions to Change Donor Commitments.”

Karen Mangia

Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce

Cape Fletcher Associates

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page