In 1997, Arthur Aron and fellow social psychology researchers at Stony Brook University in New York released the results of a study: when two individuals ask and answer 36 specific questions of each other, the process accelerates the creation of intimacy between them. In the years since, this study continues to be a pop culture phenomenon, explored in articles, podcasts, and more.

In fundraising, romantic intimacy is certainly not our goal – but creating mutual trust and engagement around a cause most certainly is.

The topic of probing questions is constant in our fundraising world: how the right questions qualify a prospect, identify areas of passion, inspire their own enthusiasm and generosity, and more. I’ve shared in previous blogs my personal philosophy about how just a few probing questions create an impactful prospect visit.

But are we asking the right questions – the specific questions – that bring us to the place of shared trust, understanding, and engagement that accelerate generosity?

And there’s another factor: our prospects are busy. They may not have an hour to walk down memory lane with us, to answer broad questions, and to see where the conversation takes us.

When we ask, “Tell me about your experience with our organization,” we may not be getting to the heart of the matter or respecting a busy prospect’s time. Probing questions find their power, instead, when they are specific.

Imagine if you rephrased your question to:

  • “What was the best part of your experience as a student?”
  • “Where on campus has your student (child) found their niche?”
  • “How has your experience with our oncology department made a difference in your care?”
  • “Where did you learn compassion for animals?”

When we hone in on the things that matter – rather than the whole story – we are able to match our prospects to the people, programs, and research that are most important to them. We are better able to discuss the areas of our organization that have significance to them. We are able to foster closeness more quickly. And ultimately, we are able to partner with them on gifts that are meaningful to us both.

Is this a technique you use? I’d love to hear how rephrasing your probing questions leads to powerful outcomes and stronger philanthropy.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture, build tools and expand partnerships throughout the organization. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

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