CGNA: Donor Questions | Identifying Charitable Passions and Noncash Giving Opportunities, Part 1 of 2

CGNA: Donor Questions | Identifying Charitable Passions and Noncash Giving Opportunities, Part 1 of 2

Article posted in Assets on 20 June 2017| comments


This chapter, authored by Jay Steenhuysen begins the discussion of identifying gifts of appreciated assets by asking the right questions. It lays the groundwork for the discovery that will ultimately lead to the powerful added value to the donor.

This article is an excerpt from Charitable Gifts of Noncash Assets, a comprehensive guide to illiquid giving by Bryan Clontz, ed. Ryan Raffin. Published by the American College of Financial Services for the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy Program (CAP), with generous funding from Leon L. Levy. For a free digital copy, click here, and to order a bound copy from Amazon, click here.

By Jay Steenhuysen11

Below is an in-depth examination on questions to ask potential donors. This topic is based on Jay Steenhuysen’s “Philanthropy Planning: What to Say and Do in the Room with your Donors/Clients to Explore and Document the Philanthropy Mission.” For quick take-aways on donor development, see Donor Questions Quick Take-Aways. For further details, see Donor Questions Additional Resources.

Experienced planners and development officers will know that assessing potential donors and their situations is half the battle. These questions run the gamut, from basic family details to past charitable activities to financial details. Typically, they will not all be asked over the course of a single conversation—these could take months’ worth of conversations and meetings to work through. Further, the questions can come from any party involved in the potential gift transaction, including professional advisors and even the donors themselves.

Any consideration of a gift of assets requires a strategy; in order to develop that strategy, fundraisers and allied professionals need to know a donor’s passion and financial circumstances. Understanding the financial and philanthropic context for giving is essential.

Finding Donors with Appreciated Assets

For most nonprofit organizations, it is the major gifts officer who staffs the crossroads of a donor’s charitable intent and financial ability. For the charitable gift planner or the professional advisor, the major gifts officer is the key to the conversation for a gift of assets.

However, major gift officers often are reluctant to raise the topic. Gift planners must empower the major gifts officer to have the conversation and then make the referral for the donor to meet with the gift planner.

The key to making this work is giving the major gifts officer questions to ask to begin the conversation. When the gift officer is beyond his/her depth, it is time to make the referral. Tell the donor, “I do not know the answer to that question, but I know someone who does. Can I arrange a meeting to follow up?”

The questions that can get the process started are:

1. Would you like to receive superior tax benefits by making your charitable gift from assets/stocks?

a.  Have you ever made a gift of stock to a charity?

b. Have you ever considered fulfilling your gift with something other than cash?

c. Have you ever given something other than cash to a charity?

2. What makes it possible for you to support our organization as you do?

3. What makes it possible for you to make such a generous gift to our organization?

4. Did you know that making your charitable gift with stocks or real estate is financially much better for you?

Personal Charitable History

The donor’s history of giving may seem irrelevant to the eventual gift transaction itself, but it is very important to get a feel for any experience with charity and personal philosophy. These can create preconceptions and attitudes which may help or hinder the development and giving process. They can also provide valuable guidance on the donor’s goals.

1. What types of organizations did you contribute to when you first began to make charitable contributions?

2. What personal factors molded your giving?

3. What environmental factors molded your giving?

4. What cultural factors molded your giving?

5. When you were young, was there anyone whom you considered a role model for giving? Who? Why? What was the impact of that relationship on you?

6. How do you feel about that person today?

7. Do you feel that you are serving (or have served) as a philanthropic role model for others? For whom? In what way?

Family Philanthropic Activities

Just as individual charitable history can be important to developing and planning the gift, so are family activities. Given the nature of family wealth, donations to charity can be a sensitive subject if everyone is not on the same page. Conversely, if the whole family is behind the gift, the transaction may be relatively painless. Similarly, if there is a family history of philanthropy, this can be vital support for the completion of the gift.

1. Please share some examples of how you have involved your family in your giving.

2. What are the most significant stories in your family’s giving? How did those experiences impact you?

For couples:

1. Tell me about your shared charitable interests.

2. Have you ever had disagreements over charitable gifts? How did you resolve those disagreements? Were gifts ultimately made? What compromises were involved?

For couples with children:

1. How did you and your spouse/partner give before you had children? Has that changed in any way since the children were born? If so, how?

2. Do you involve your children in your giving currently?

a. If so, why and how?

b. If not, why not?

3. What sort of participation in charitable giving do you feel is most important for the children?

4. Have the children shared your interests as they aged? If not, how are their interests different?

5. If client’s children are very young, ask: How do you plan to involve them?

6. What is your hope for your children and their giving?

Family Volunteer History

Similar to family philanthropic history, this can give an idea of active engagement in charitable endeavors. It can provide advisors, development or planned giving officers with insight into the enthusiasm for the gift and charitable outlook generally.

1. Did your parents volunteer? Tell me about those experiences. How did they impact you?

2. What were your early volunteer roles? How has that changed as you aged?

3. Have you been involved in leadership roles? Describe how you felt about those.

4. Do not limit thoughts exclusively to board involvement. What other active roles did you assume? Did those roles focus your talents on solving problems? Establishing new ventures? Dramatically enhancing programmatic effectiveness? Improving organizational efficiency?

5. Do your spouse / partner and / or children volunteer? What has been the impact, if any, of their volunteer experiences on you?

Political Affiliations and Activities

As above, this helps gauge the enthusiasm and overall charitable outlook of the donor. It also provides insight into the particular issues that a donor might be interested in, as well as their stance on those subjects.

1. What kind of involvement have you had with political organizations?

2. Did you take a leadership role in parties at the local, state or national level?

a. Have you ever campaigned for an office?

i. If so, were you elected? What were the most important votes you cast as a political official?

4. Did you sponsor or campaign for a specific issue? If so, what was that issue, and what were the results? How did you feel about that?

5. What political organizations or think tanks have you supported? Why were these important to you?

6. Can you remember specific publications produced by these groups that had an impact on your charitable gifts or philosophy?

Grantee Selection

These questions begin to delve into the donor’s history of gift-giving specifically. They are intended to evaluate donor experience and any resulting attitudes towards the gift.

1. Tell me about some meaningful gifts that you have made.

2. What were your criteria for selecting charitable organizations?

a. How did you research charitable organizations?

b. How did you select organizations based on their missions? Specific programs? Your relationships with people involved in the group?

i. Were those relationships with someone who benefited from the charity?

ii. Did you personally benefit from the charity?

3. Did you initiate programs yourself? If so, what were they, and what caused you to launch those programs?

Good Gifts

Here the questions evaluate what the donor wants, and how to qualify a gift as a success. This will provide guidance on how to keep the donor happy going forward.

1. What is your definition of a good gift?” How do you know when you have made a “good gift?”

2. Share a couple of examples of good gifts” with me. Why did you feel they were good?

3. What process did you use to make "good gift" decisions?

4. What details did the organization provide to you as you considered making that gift?

5. Which details were most influential in making the decision?

6. What were the best parts of the gift? Outcomes achieved? Acknowledgments you received? Leverage of the gift? The fact that it served as an example for other potential donors? Which of these things were most meaningful to you in the gift process?

Gifts Gone Wrong

These questions exist for essentially the same reason as the ones in the section above. Just as it is important to find out what makes the donor happy about “good gifts,” it is important for the charity to know what makes a “bad gift.” Avoiding these missteps are crucial to maintaining good donor relations.

1. Describe any bad gifts you may have made and why you felt they were bad.

2. Did the experience involve communication? How did you handle the news when you were told that things were not going well? What kind of communication occurred with the charity?

3. What did you learn from what went wrong?

4. What did the charity learn from what went wrong?

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