How to Listen Your Way to a Major Gift During the COVID-19 Crisis

Guest post by Amy Eisenstein

You may be wondering if now is the right time to be asking for major gifts. To answer that question, ask yourself, ‘does your nonprofit organization still have the same or even greater need?’.

If the answer is yes, then you should continue asking for major gifts.

Listen Your Way to A Gift

Experienced major gift officers will tell you they listen their way to major gifts.

Unfortunately, many development directors think the opposite in that they need to talk their way into a major gift. What’s important to remember is that fundraising is not about convincing, cajoling, or guilting your donors to make a gift.

Think about it. If you guilt a donor or twist their arm, they won’t feel good about giving which could mean no gifts at all. They won’t answer the phone the next time you call. And, they won’t be singing your praises to their friends and family.

On the other hand, if a donor gives because they want to, not because you want them to, then they will feel great. And, when fundraising is done right, donors feel great about giving. They excitedly tell their friends and family what amazing things they, and you, are doing.

Donor’s Priorities Come First

Although at first, it may seem counter-productive, the first priority is always the donor. And, in order to learn what the donor’s priorities are, you need to listen. Especially now.

First, find out how the donor is doing. Ask how they have been affected over the past few weeks. Find out if they are able to work from home and how their business is doing. The answers to these questions will provide clues as to whether now is an appropriate time to ask for a gift.

Initially, it’s not about the nonprofit’s needs, and certainly not about your own. Major gift fundraising is about listening to what the donor is passionate about and trying to determine whether or not there’s a match between the donor’s interests and your organization’s needs.

This often means that a donor may not be right for your organization or your specific fundraising campaign. This can be disappointing and difficult for many nonprofit professionals to admit.

Ask Open-Ended Questions – Over the Phone

Your job is to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that allow insight into your donor’s psyche.

Under normal circumstances, we would be asking these questions in-person. However, during the COVID-19 crisis, you’ll need to communicate with donors remotely.

Some sample questions include:
How has this crisis caused you to think about your philanthropy?
What role do you see yourself playing in terms of helping those in need?
What motivated you to give (to us) in the first place, and what would motivate you to continue to give (or give more)?

The answers to these questions should help spur discussion about the donor’s interests, passions, and what they might support financially.

Learn to Listen Better

Listening is a skill and you can get better with practice. Be sure to avoid as many distractions as possible. Tell others in the house you are on an important call. Turn your computer off, so you are not tempted to check something while on the phone.

Focus your attention on the person you are speaking with, and feel free to “repeat” back what they’ve said to make sure you’ve heard it correctly. You can say something like, “What I believe you said was…”. Or, “Let me see if I’ve got this right…”.

Fundraising is about good listening. It takes practice, patience, and persistence. Have you ever listened your way to a gift?

Join Amy for a weekly town-hall-style call every Thursday at 3:00 for the duration of the crisis. Register here:

For more tips on better listening,

For more on raising major gifts, visit



About the Author: Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She is also a consultant, speaker, author, and trainer. Her published books include: Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. Amy served as president of the AFP-NJ Chapter in 2014 and 2015 and received the AFP New Jersey Consultant of the Year award in 2019. She became a CFRE in 2004 and received the ACFRE in 2013. She blogs at and

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