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Campaign Super Power: 9 Tips for Interviewing Donors

Updated: May 28



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When we support high-performing teams on fundraising campaigns, one of the most important tools we use is donor interviews.   

Becoming a skilled interviewer is something that any fundraiser can learn to do, not just consultants. In fact, when we work with clients on campaign feasibility studies, we encourage staff to do some of the interviews with our training and support. Learning this superpower (that has been used in campaign fundraising to raise billions) lets staff build their skills and helps the organization increase capacity for major gifts fundraising.  


And there’s more good news.  It doesn’t take a big board-approved campaign to do a round of donor interviews. AND donors don’t have to be at the center.  Borrowing from the community organizing practice of conducting listening sessions, fundraisers can deploy listening interviews with community served and donors to understand what people care about and where the gaps are. Imagine sharing that back with a donor: 

 

“You know Sandy, when I interviewed you last winter about the programs you were most interested in funding you weren’t’ alone in your answers.  Most donors also love our mural project.  But what was fascinating is that most of the people with lived experience care about changing laws.  I know you love how we are client-led. Does knowing what they prioritize change how you think about your giving?” 

 

What if you could blend community organizing, feasibility study interview magic, and values-based fundraising to get information you need from donors about what they will give and when, and to educate them on the importance of unrestricted gifts to stay responsive to community needs?  

 

You can! And you can start right now all by yourself! And if you don’t want to go it alone, we’d love to be your campaign trainer, guide, coach, and cheerleader. 

 

Whether it's a large-scale campaign or a small fundraising need, interviewing a blend of donors and community members can unveil a wealth of information that can shape strategies, refine approaches, and ultimately drive financial support. Not to mention it can help donors understand the complexity of our mission work.  

 

Here are 9 interviewing tips straight from our Values-Based Campaign playbook: 

 

  1. Listen Attentively: The cornerstone of any successful interview is active listening. Encourage supporters to share their experiences, motivations, and concerns openly. Ask open-ended follow up questions. Get comfy with the phrase, “can you say more about that?”. 

  2. Take Detailed Notes: Record key points, previous contributions, resonating aspects of your organization's work, and any suggestions or concerns voiced by the donor. We love asking for permission to use a transcription service like Otter as we take notes. You’ll be able to take notes in the Otter app and have key phrases word-for-word to go back to when reviewing your results.  

  3. Identify Patterns and Priorities: Look for patterns in decision-making, such as causes supported, organizational values shared, or preferred recognition and involvement opportunities. Understanding the interviewees priorities lets you customize fundraising, follow up and further relationship building. If you’re not sure, ask. It might sound like: “I think I hear you saying that you would be more involved but you’re hesitant since the staff don’t reflect the community. Is that right?” 

  4. Seek Feedback, Set Expectations: Invite interviewees to share their thoughts, suggestions, and feedback on fundraising/campaign goals, strategies, and proposed projects. Valuable insights gleaned can refine campaign approaches and enhance effectiveness. Tell them that you're taking feedback from donors and community members back to further refine the campaign/initiative/work.  

  5. Honesty and Transparency: Transparency is key during interviews. If you're unsure of an answer, it's perfectly acceptable to admit it and promise to follow up later with the correct information. In fact, we call that a “reason to follow up” or an RTFU—and it’s a golden ticket to relationship budling.  

  6. Confidence through Rehearsal: Practice makes courage, because you don’t have to be perfect. Rehearse and feel confident in delivering questions and hearing and responding to answers to alleviate fears. Mock interviews with colleagues or organizational insiders (start with your board and tell them what you’re practicing!) can help build confidence and familiarity with the content. 

  7. Embrace Vulnerability: Vulnerability can be a powerful tool for fostering honest   conversations. Embrace the fact that you may be new or unrehearsed, and don’t be afraid to admit it, as it may elicit more genuine responses from interviewees to match your authenticity. 

  8. No Bad Outcomes: Remember, there are no bad outcomes in listening and feasibility interviews. Every piece of information gathered, regardless of the response, is valuable for shaping the fundraising strategy ahead and will help you protect your precious time.  

  9. Follow-Up and Logistics: Let the interviewee know what to expect next from you and then make sure that you follow up and follow through.  This is how you’ll build trust so you can have complex and sometimes challenging conversions later on.  

 

 

Feasibility interviews with a blend of donors and people served by your mission are a potent tool for fundraisers to better understand priorities, disconnects, motivations, preferences, and opportunities. So, get out there and start unlocking valuable insights that drive successful fundraising campaigns, no matter the scale.



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