The Right Question

Have you seen the movie I-Robot with Will Smith?

In this futuristic movie, there are several scenes with Smith and a human-programmed interactive hologram. The hologram only provides information when what it deems to be “the ‘right’ question” is asked. Inevitably, throughout the movie, Smith’s character grows increasingly frustrated with the hologram because he cannot figure out the right question to ask.

Wouldn’t it be great in fundraising if we always knew the right question for every donor and fundraising situation we encounter?

I thought about I-Robot recently when John, a very experienced Vice President for Advancement, shared this story with me:

John was on his way to not-too-far-away Manassas, Virginia to see a donor that supports John’s nonprofit. It was the kind of spur-of-the-moment, casual drop-by visit with a donor-friend that fundraisers should do more often.

John decided to give the donor a call while he was on the way. The donor answered his cell phone and John simply asked how he liked his coffee. “Cream and sugar,” said the man. End of phone call.

John arrived at the donor’s office with a super-jumbo- sized coffee and asked the receptionist if he could see the donor. She replied, “He’s in Maine.”

John decided to leave the coffee on the donor’s desk with a note saying, “Sorry to have missed you, but here’s your coffee, just as you like it.”

About a week later, the donor texted John, “Thanks for the coffee.”

Instead of texting back, John quickly called the donor. “Why didn’t you even mention you were in Maine?”

“You didn’t ask,” responded the donor.

I just laughed out loud. It is not only good to know where your donors are — especially when you go to visit them — it is also good to ask the right question.

“Thoughts from Inspector Clouseau”

Thank you Ben for this wonderful post. By the way, your post reminds me of a favorite movie scene from the Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers. As Inspector Clouseau (Sellers) he is standing in a hotel lobby and sees a dog lying by the front door. In an exaggerated French accent, he asks the clerk, “Does your dog bite?” The man answers, “No.” Walking toward the door, Clouseau bends down to pet the dog; it growls and bites him. Aghast, he exclaims, “I thought that you said your dog does not bite!” The man responds,

“Oui, monsieur, but that is not my dog.” (See video.)

By the way, speaking of asking the right question, here are 31 sample questions to ask donors.

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