Discovery Questions, Alignment Questions, and Closing Questions
Funding | | Nick Fellers
Questions are powerful tools to a fundraiser (read: salesperson). Effectively used, they help you learn, connect, lead, qualify, and close.
In our work — preparing clients for conversations with funders — we spend more time drafting engaging questions to ask than talking points to present. As organizations and funders have moved to virtual meetings, the effective use of questions has become even more important because our other norms of learning/connecting/leading are limited or replaced.
(See also Elevator Pitch vs. Elevator Engagement)
Here are the three types of questions you should be prepared to use.
Discovery questions. Discovery questions are used to learn and gather information. We use discovery questions to understand what is in the prospect’s mind… the words they use… their areas of interest… their objections.
- “What has been your best investment (in an organization) and why?”
- “What do you know about [our organization/project]?”
- “I sent a lot of materials to review ahead of our discussion. If you had time to review, is there anything that stuck out to you?”
- “You are heavily investing in [insert theme]. We’ve read through your website, but what are your primary aims in the coming year?”
- “Why did you decide to join the board three years ago?”
- “Our organization is so many things to so many people, I like to ask people, how do YOU describe the organization to your friends?”
- After discussing priorities, “Which of these priorities is most important to you? Why?”
Alignment questions. Alignment questions are pretty simple. They are often used to confirm that you are aligned with the prospect, in which case you can continue to navigate forward toward your goals. If you’re not aligned, they ask the prospect to engage and offer valuable feedback.
- “Does this make sense?” or “I’ve been talking too much, let me stop and ask you to respond, does this make sense?”
- If the prospect offers a rejection or a statement that doesn’t make sense you can check for alignment. “Can you tell me more?” Or simply, “Tell me more.”
- “In our discussion today I would love to talk a little bit about our program and see if there is alignment with your interests. And then, if it makes sense, explores ways we might ask for your help. Does that work?”
Alignment questions can also be used to transition the conversation by asking if it’s okay to move on to the next agenda item, or, in our case, as part of the visit-flow.
- “Can we talk about how you can help?”
Closing questions. Closing questions involve asking the prospect to do something and they should be able to answer yes or no. (More generally we could also call these ‘action questions’.) This includes making an investment or making introductions to others.
- “Could I ask you to take the lead (on this project)?” (Leadership Close)
- Showing a funding plan. “I have no idea what your capacity is, where do you see yourself?” (Clueless Close)
- “Assuming that this, this and this happens … would you then be willing to make a leadership investment in this vision?” (Contingency close)
- See other closes. (audio)
A good dialogue uses an assortment of questions to engage and navigate toward a goal. For instance, in an ask for funding support, you might follow that up with discovery questions and an alignment question to build a ‘roadmap to a close’.