20 questions every fundraiser must be able to answer

(subtitle: this is why I can’t for the life of me understand how “fundraiser” became synonymous with “not totally integrated with the core work of the organization”)

  1. What are your top three priorities right now?
  2. Where will the organization be in 5 years?
  3. What’s your annual operating budget?  Walk me through it.
  4. What does success look like for the organization?
  5. How will my donation make an impact?
  6. How much do you spend on overhead?
  7. What’s your long-term vision for sustainability?
  8. How much cash do you have on hand?  Is it too much or too little?
  9. What is your organization’s theory of change?
  10. What are your biggest challenges?
  11. How much cumulative funding has your organization raised since inception?
  12. Help me understand social impact and how you measure it?
  13. What else can I do to help you – I want to give more than money?
  14. Who are your competitors and how do you compare to them?
  15. Can I meet your CEO?
  16. How much did you grant/fund last year? How and why did that differ from prior years?
  17. If I support you, I’d like your organization to do ___________ [this project/in this geography/with these partners].  Will you?
  18. How can our organizations work together?
  19. Why are you passionate about this work?

[UPDATE: thanks to a copy-paste slip-up, two of the items on the list were the same.  So #20 is now blank so you can add your “best question” in the comments section!]

12 thoughts on “20 questions every fundraiser must be able to answer

  1. When will I hear from you about how my donation helped and who it helped?

    Great list! There is such a turnover in development people at nonprofits that it would be a wonder if a fundraiser can answer more than two or three of these without consulting someone back at the office.

  2. “tell me about your board and its role in your organization”

    “In 2 minutes or less–what are the mission and vision of your organization?”

  3. Which do you want more: your organization to survive or the need you were created to address eliminated? How do you act on it?

  4. #20 – Why should I care? (I hate saying it, but the truth is that most organizations never reach out in a way that is meaningful to me. This is because most organizations lack great storytelling skills. The best stories tie goals to specific stories then relate the impact on the world, even better, my world. I know Sasha’s good at it, but most non-profits aren’t.)

  5. These questions are ridiculous! I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and I’ve only ever worked in the nonprofit sector. I’ve seen so many good organization being run into the ground by terrible leadership and staff. Organizations you’d never want to give to. But I’ve also have the fortune, thank goodness, of working with a few great, hopelessly inspiring organizations. The one thing a DONOR should do before giving to any organization is have FAITH. Be open minded and pray to goodness that you are lucky enough to cross paths with the right organization, run by the right people, doing the right things, at the right time. That’s all you can do. Your 20 questions aren’t going to do you thing! So the CEO you meet with one day is great, and the CEO who replaces her is an incompetent indiot…what are you going to do then? And PLEASE GOD people don’t go around bugging quality nonprofit staff at quality organizations demanding to meet with the CEO and have the CFO walk you through the organization’s financials…unless of course you are plunking down some serious cash. Otherwise, these folks could be WORKING to further the mission of the organization instead of trying to win over jaded over thinkers hopelessly stuck in their heads. Forgive me, again, I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector a long time. Perhaps I’ve seen too much 🙂 ….and seen good organizations get too little.

  6. I think this is a great example of questions all organizations should be able to answer. If you can’t answer these, you need to take a serious look at what you’re doing and why. I’m pretty tempted to write a blog post answering these, to get the practice! Thanks for the share, Sasha.

  7. Thanks for sharing Sasha these are great! My biggest one that nonprofits don’t do enough of is measure their social impact and spend so much time running around amok doing program work without thinking about the social impact at the end.

    My 20th question would be “how does your organization define success? what are your target/goal outcomes of your work?”

  8. Whenever I teach my Exponential Fundraising course, the first question I ask the group is: “What is fundraising?”

    The answers are always something like: directing resources to things that urgently need to be done on the planet; listening to people’s passions and translating those into action; joining together around shared values and a common goal. I then draw a line down the center of the board and asked another question: “Those all seem like really good and important things. So why is fundraising so hard?” The answers are the usual suspects: fear of rejection; feeling subservient; beliefs around money; fear of seeming weak or needy; and so on.

    In every class, I see the same thing: a disconnect between the possibility of what fundraising can be and the limited, slog-like way in which it is too often experienced and practiced.

    So, thanks for the great list Sasha — and I would add #20 on your list: What is fundraising?

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