Questions Asked by Donors

How well has your consultant prepped you for the big ask?

What are the questions asked by major gift donors? Here’s the scenario.  You have set a campaign goal of $25 million. As president of a Catholic high school, you have been advised to ask for $10 million on the first solicitation call.

Are you prepared? 

Your prospective donor will not ask all of the questions below.  But he or she will ask some of them. 

Here’s the thing.  Like preparing for a college exam, you don’t know which questions will be on the test.  It’s best to be prepared for all of them. 

About the Project

  • How much do you need?
  • What for?  How do you plan to spend the money?
  • Why do you need that amount?
  • Who decided you needed it? 
    • Who was involved in that decision? Was it just academics within the school structure, or did you have involvement in the decision from alumni, trusted business people, and parents with professional expertise in various areas?
  • How did you determine these projects were a top priority?
    • What are the benefits?
    • Will a successful completion to this campaign benefit enrollment?  Is that one of your objectives?
    • If so, what are your enrollment goals? How did you arrive at that number? To what degree will the growth of enrollment benefit your operating budget?  Give me a ballpark revenue number.
  • To what degree will the new construction increase your operating costs?
  • Will construction be done by a Design + Build firm or Architect and Contractor bids?  Have anyone in mind?
  • Is it urgent?  Why?  What’s the timeline for the campaign and construction?
  • What does your organization look like if this doesn’t get done?

About the Campaign

  • Who put together the cost estimates for the project?
  • When were the estimates done?  When were the cost estimates last updated?
  • Presuming this is a five-year pledge period, and you want to get this built in year 1 or 2, have you included bridge financing in the project cost you shared with me?  Do those numbers include FF & E? (furniture, fixtures and equipment.)
  • Did your Board of Directors authorize the campaign and the financial goal in a formal motion and vote?  When did they do that?

Every question asked by major gift donors contains a deeper, unstated concern. Do you recognize them?  To learn more, just ask.

Canonical Relationship to the Church / Non Profit Status

  • What is the relationship between your entity and the diocese?  Are you owned by the diocese? 
  • If owned by the diocese:
    • Are your assets at risk in diocesan lawsuits?
    • Did the Bishop give permission in writing to proceed with a campaign? For these purposes? For these financial goals? (a common protocol within dioceses)
    • To what degree is the local Ordinary helping you campaign? 
      • Has he helped you identify potential lead gift prospects?
      • Will he host or attend gatherings with top donors?
      • Has he given you a written endorsement? 
  • If the Catholic school or organization is not owned by the Diocese.
    • “Even if not owned by the Diocese, you still operate as a Catholic school, giving the local Ordinary canonical oversight in matters of faith and morals. He has a rightful concern for the health of the school.”
    • Therefore, to what degree is the local Ordinary helping you campaign? 
      • Has he provided a written, generic To-Whom-It-May-Concern endorsement you can use if and when circumstances warrant? 
      • Are there select individuals who might respond best to a private meeting with the Bishop?
      • Has he helped you identify potential lead gift prospects?
      • Will he host or attend gatherings with top donors?
  • Has the Board been asked yet?  How much have you collectively raised from the Board?
  • How long have you been campaigning?
  • How long do you expect to be campaigning?  When will construction start?

About Campaign Leadership

  • Who is chairing the campaign?  Who else is on campaign leadership?
  • Collectively, how much have they given? 
  • What are they currently doing for you?  What will they do for you? Are they out asking for gifts?

About the Ask

  • You’ve asked me for $10,000,000 on a $25,000,000 goal. How did you arrive at that number?  Why are you asking me for $10 mil?
  • You are asking me for 40% of the total goal.  How many parents, past parents and alumni are in your database?  Why are you asking one person for 40% of the total needed?
  • What happens if I make that gift and the campaign ends up at, say, $18M?  What happens then?  Do you have the ability to borrow the balance to complete the project?  Do you know the debt load you are capable of handling?

Need help answering questions? Just ask.

Handling Objections

Know what to say if the prospective donor asks…

  • You want me to make a gift of how much?   What makes you think I have that kind of money?
  • I’ve fully committed my charitable budget for this year.
  • How soon do you need an answer?
  • (with a distant look)  Um, I’ll have to check with my wife (my tax accountant, my business partner, etc.)
  • Are you using a fundraising consultant?  Do they get a commission?

These are the questions asked by major gift donors. As the size of the request increases, so too does the number of questions.  After all, you are asking for an investment level gift. At one point for another, I’ve been asked all of them.

If you are not sure how to answer one or more of these hypothetical questions, just ask.

Gregory S. Jeffrey, Principal

Catholic Development Group LLC

<strong>Greg Jeffrey</strong>
Greg Jeffrey

Principal – Catholic Development Group LLC