The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave

The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave

Harvey McKinnon

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The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave
How You Can Inspire Someone to Give Generously

by Harvey McKinnon, 115 pp.

There is one secret to securing a gift.

And here’s the Holy Grail:

Anticipate the questions your would-be donor is almost sure to ask, and have solid answers at the ready.

Do that and the gift is yours.

Through research and interviews, Harvey McKinnon has identified the 11 questions you can expect, and the type of answers donors find most satisfying.

This is successful fundraising stripped to its glorious, revenue-producing essence.

About the Author

Harvey McKinnon is co-author of the international bestseller, The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin). It was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005 and won the prestigious 2009 Nautilus Gold Award for books on social change.

His other works include Hidden Gold, the first book on monthly giving; the audio CD How Today’s Rich Give (Jossey-Bass), as well as the Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press.)

McKinnon, who is one of North America’s leading fundraising experts, runs the Vancouver/Toronto based fundraising consultancy, Harvey McKinnon Associates (HMA). He trains and delivers keynotes around the world.

HMA works with clients in many countries, ranging from children’s causes to environmental groups to Hospitals. McKinnon has served on many boards over the years, and lives with his family in Vancouver, Canada.

Table of Contents


  1. “Why me?”                           
  2. “Why are you asking me?”                        
  3. “Do I respect you?”                       
  4. “How much do you want?”        
  5. “Why your organization?”        
  6. “Will my gift make a difference?”           
  7. “Is there an urgent reason to give?           
  8. “Is it easy to give?”                           
  9. “How will I be treated?”                             
  10. “Will I have a say over how you use my gift?”
  11. “How will you measure results?”                        

A Note from Jerold Panas
Appendix A. Fundraising Questions I’m Most Often Asked
Appendix B. Ten Questions Every Board Member Should Ask about Fundraising

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This article is excerpted from Harvey McKinnon's The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.

Will I Have a Say Over How You Use My Gift?

Parents know they don’t have a lot of control. . . .

When your infant demands a feeding at 2:00 A.M. When your teen listens to gangster rap despite your distaste. When your cum laude graduate becomes engaged to a ne’er-do-well.  You can quickly start to feel powerless. But you can still hope to have influence.

And that’s what many donors want—and deserve . . . as long as it stops there.

Ray Rasker lives in Montana, a long way from most major donors. So he was delighted when a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur moved to Bozeman. More delighted, because the fellow telephoned to say he wanted to give a substantial sum to the environmental organization where Ray worked.

Now for the most part, unknown multimillionaires aren’t ringing up nonprofits. But, like many delightful opportunities, this one came with strings. In exchange for his gift, the man wanted a seat on the board. But more important, he wanted to change the organization’s mission.

Says Ray: “He called himself a ‘venture philanthropist,’ so the rules, at least from his perspective, were different. Just as a venture capitalist wants some degree of control over the business he invests in, this man felt he could translate the same thinking to the nonprofit world.”  

In this case, Ray’s would-be donor wanted more than control over his gift. He wanted control of the organization. Ray of course demurred. “That didn’t fit for us,” he politely phrases it.
Regaining Control

My friend Daryl had a similar problem. But the potential gift he was offered was vastly greater. There was only one problem. The donors wanted to spend it on something that wasn’t needed.

Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, died in 1991 from AIDS. At the time, Daryl headed fundraising for the Terrence Higgins Trust, one of the largest HIV/AIDS charities in the world.
The manager of Queen called and asked Daryl for a meeting. The band wanted to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” and direct all royalties and profits to the Terrance Higgins Trust, so long as the money would build the “Freddie Mercury HIV/AIDS Ward” in a hospital.

Daryl’s dilemma was that the United Kingdom didn’t need such a ward. By then, antiretroviral drugs had been introduced, improving the health and life expectancy of those with HIV and leading to an oversupply of beds. Plus, the medical profession was no longer isolating HIV/AIDS patients in hospitals.

What were Daryl’s choices? He could take the money, with the perk of singing backup at the tribute concert. Or he could use his skills to negotiate a different arrangement (a better choice, since he can’t carry a tune).

After two meetings and long hours of negotiation, Daryl finally persuaded Queen, its management team, and their record company to accept his view—they should use the money to advocate for those with HIV/AIDS and to launch a campaign to prevent its transmission.

The parties ceded control because Daryl listened to them, understood their viewpoint, and showed them how the funds could have greater impact. “Bohemian Rhapsody” went straight to number one in the United Kingdom and many places worldwide. The recording raised a total of $10 million.

What Has Changed?

Why is it that donors want more control these days?

I think there are a couple of key reasons.

1) They don’t trust you’ll spend their money wisely.
2) They feel more involved when they have control.

Let’s deal with each briefly.

First, trust. In our society, we’ve seen a decline of trust for virtually all institutions and authorities, including our nonprofits. No doubt the media is partly to blame.

I suspect that on a per capita basis there are fewer ethical transgressions among nonprofits today than at any point in the last one hundred years. There are more checks and balances, more transparency, and a greater willingness to expose wrongdoing. But the occasional scandal, given great airplay (a good thing actually), does periodically undermine trust in the charitable sector.

As to the second reason, that donors feel more involved when they have control, perhaps it’s nothing more than a simple yearning for human contact. Think of the ways we increasingly isolate ourselves. For instance, why meet with someone or call a friend when you can catch up by text or e-mail?

A donor saying, “I want to see how you put my gift to work,” may not be interested in heavy-handed control at all. Rather, he may simply want to see the child who will get a new wheelchair. Or she may want to meet the refugees learning English in a class she helped make possible. These experiences strengthen the emotional link and the feeling that the donor helped change lives. For the fundraiser, a donor’s desire to see his or her gift at work is always an opportunity.