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  • Writer's pictureDebra A. Gill

The Power of Curiosity

Ask , don’t tell.

During a recent board retreat facilitation, I was asked a great question … “How do I open the conversation with someone about supporting our organization?” My answer was “Be curious!”

Too many of us feel the need to promote our missions, tell our stories, and educate people about our impact right off the bat. While we need to do all these things, timing is everything.

Think about the beginning of a dating relationship. Which works better – talking about yourself or asking your date questions about themselves? Exactly!

When we begin dating, we explore common ground. Favorite music, foods, family backgrounds, dreams, and aspirations.

Approaching donors with the same spirit of curiosity allows you to learn about their knowledge of your organization, or lack thereof. Asking thoughtful questions creates space for an interactive conversation which ultimately will allow you to tell stories, provide education, and engage them philanthropically.

We call this the discovery phase. Not legal discovery of course by rather discovering where the prospect stands in relation to your organization. Putting forth some of the following questions may lead to a deeper conversation.


  • What nonprofit organizations are you currently involved with?

  • Do you enjoy volunteering for nonprofit organizations and if so, which ones?

  • What nonprofit organizations do you feel have the greatest impact on our community?

  • When you think about nonprofit organizations, which ones stand out as the top three?


  • As you may know, I’m involved with ABC organization, how much do you know about us?

  • What about our mission appeals to you?

  • How do you get your information about us (internet, media, etc.)?

  • What do you hear about us from others?

  • What suggestions do you have for increasing our connection with/impact on the community?

  • Would you be interested in:

    • taking a tour?

    • gaining a deeper understanding of our mission?

    • meeting some of the team?

  • Is there anything you think I should know as a staff/board member?

Philanthropic Inclination

  • How do you, and your family/company, make your charitable giving decisions?

  • Are there any missions/organizations that appeal to you more than others (children, art, environment, health, education, etc.)?

  • Do you prioritize your charities of choice or consider giving on a case-by-case basis?

  • What is your preferred communication method with organizations you support?

  • What would be the next steps to engage you in a conversation about giving to ABC organization?

  • Are there others we should be reaching out to who may have a connection to our mission?

  • Any general suggestions, ideas, or feedback that we haven't touched on?

These questions have one intentional commonality. They are not yes or no questions. Effective discovery involves asking leading questions that evoke thoughtful answers. Just by considering their responses, prospects will feel a meaningful level of connection.

So, will these questions truly open doors? The answer is Yes! but only if you bring your curiosity to the conversation.

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their mission.

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