When my nephew Jason was a little kid, he could drive me crazy with his questions. He’d start with “What is that man doing?” “He’s digging a hole.”
“Why?” “Well, he’s helping build a bridge.”
“Why?” “The old one washed out.”
“Why?” “Because there was a mudslide.”
Before I knew it, I was trying to explain global weather patterns and El Niño…and quickly getting w-a-y out of my depth. (Of course, this was before iPhones; I think I’d last a few more rounds now).
“Why?” is the question
In fundraising research, we need to be like four-year-olds every time we do our work. Every single time we come up against information that doesn’t quite make sense.
Why does that couple belong to a golf club on an island off the coast of Georgia? They live in New York. Their second home is in Colorado. What’s going on? Is their capacity to give larger than we think?
Why is our alumnus not responding to a 45-page proposal we labored over for two solid weeks? It was a sure thing – he asked us to put it together!
Why did a distinguished business leader suddenly change her giving priorities ten years ago? It used to be the environment, now she’s into medical research. Will she give to us?
When we research, facts that are asymmetrical should grab our attention and bug us like a stone in our sandal. We’re not just finding information, plonking it down in a report and throwing it over the transom in a factory line. Yawn. Another report done. Next.
The couple belongs to the island golf club because their third home is there, held in trust in a compound the wife’s grandfather, an oil baron, established. Fortunately on its website the golf club’s newsletter mentioned the great season-opening party at the couple’s house, with photos of the art collection and the back-story of the oil baron.
The alumnus mentioned in a newspaper interview years ago that he is dyslexic. Our alum hasn’t read the proposal and didn’t feel comfortable mentioning it.
The prospect’s sister died of a hereditary disease 10 years ago. In a video interview she discusses how she’s motivated to honor her sibling and find a cure for herself and her family.
These are three real examples* where asking “why?” made a make-or-break difference in our client’s success with engaging a donor. None of the answers were available on the three main search engines – they were found in deep web sources.
Every piece of research you do could make that difference
We have to keep at it ~ to keep asking “why?” Yes, it’s a lot more work, but it makes work a lot more interesting. We researchers live for that “Eureka!” moment, and there’s no better feeling than being part of a gift that transforms a donor, an organization and the people or cause we serve.
*Details changed to preserve anonymity