For Impact


The Most Important Question

The Ask | | Nick Fellers

This is a quick one to share – let you ponder and add your thoughts.

When meeting with a new prospect or a group or even someone very familiar with your organization, what is the Single Most Important Question you should ask to start things off?

How about this one:

“What do you know about our organization?”

Or, if the person has long been associated/involved with your organization:

“What do you know about this project?”

Or, more broadly:

“What do you know about [insert your cause here]?”

Listening to the answer will do wonders for your ability to have a productive visit. The answer to this singular, one important question could:

  • Save a lot of time (you don’t want to repeat things he/she already knows)
  • Get out misunderstandings (if the prospect has the wrong idea about your org, you can address these points)

Presumably you know where you would like to be at the end of the visit (the goals).
Wouldn’t you like to know where you are at the beginning of the visit?

Two quick stories to share with you to make my point (one good, one bad) and then you get more thoughts/ideas online:

First, the bad (DID NOT ask the Most Important Question):

Three years ago we were helping a domestic violence shelter. They were trying to work with the community to locate new space so that they could increase the number of families that they served.

The prospect was a successful female entrepreneur. In the first meeting it was just she and I (male – single).

We had a great dialogue, hit it off, made our connections and I asked a lot of questions … Just not the single most important question.

I was sharing a number of astounding statistics about domestic violence – one of which is that one out of four women are victims of domestic violence.

She stopped me there …

“Nick, I know all this … I’m the one of those four.”

GULP. Who was I to be ‘informing’ her about the problem?

She was willing to share this information. I should’ve asked the most important question: What do you know about Domestic Violence?

For another organization (DID ask the Most Important Question):

A board member and I were visiting with someone that the staff had identified as a great prospect and friend of the organization. I had a thick folder full of information (thanks to all the ‘prospect research data services’, Google and staff interviews).

After we got to know each other on the visit I asked most important question:

Q. “Can you just share with us what you know about XYZ org?”

A. “Just about everything – I think. I was one of the three founders fifteen years ago.”

We had no idea this woman founded the organization. The staff had no idea. The board had no idea. Needless to say, it completely changed the nature of visit and we moved immediately to an exciting dialogue about HOW we were going to make the vision for the current project a reality.

Next time you’re on a visit don’t forget to ask The Most Important Question.