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How the 4 Letters in “FORD” Can Help You Master Any Donor Conversation

By Andrew Polter posted 07-18-2023 11:43


Fundraising often requires you to talk to strangers. 

Whether it’s mingling in the crowd at a gala or spending one-on-one time working with prospects, the reality is that to be successful in this profession, you’re going to need to connect continuously with new individuals who have the interest and potential to support your organization’s mission.

For many, spending time talking with strangers sounds like a nightmare. How could you possibly talk with someone you just met? What would you even have to discuss?

Fortunately, I’m here to propose a solution in the form of one simple, yet powerful, acronym, that will answer these questions plus begin to establish a rapport with any individual you meet.

Introducing a life-changing acronym: “FORD”

FORD, in this case, stands for:

I first heard about FORD through a LinkedIn post when I was experimenting with different approaches to connecting with prospective donors.

Before incorporating the tenets of this acronym into my work, I often asked questions that I felt were good, but never truly assisted me in learning meaningful details about backgrounds.

This new approach enabled me to ask targeted questions and discover information about an individual’s linkage, ability, and interest.  

Here are ways to incorporate the tenants of FORD into your work:


When working with prospects, you’ll want an understanding of where they are in life.

Asking about family establishes whether they have a partner, have school-age children, are paying for college tuition, or are supporting others.

How they respond to your questions regarding family circumstances will help you understand whether they have financial capacity and if now is the right time for them to make an investment in your organization.

Perhaps their kids are in the last year of college. Think about how you can pivot your conversations to discuss what will happen after this stage of life and how they might want to reallocate their resources once they no longer have a tuition commitment.


Learning about a prospect’s career trajectory will help you discern if they likely have financial capacity.

Did they just complete graduate school or are they an established CEO of a Fortune 500 company?

Now, to clarify, both may still have wealth, but you’re trying to use context clues to determine the likelihood they have the capacity to make a significant investment now or in the future.

Understanding their career opportunities will guide you as you determine who to meet with now and who to keep in contact with as they may be ready to support your work in several years’ time.


Even in a first conversation, ask about someone’s life outside of work.

What do they like to do in their spare time and how do they choose to spend their disposable income?

Do they volunteer in leadership roles on nonprofit boards that require annual giving commitments?

Do they belong to well-connected organizations and clubs?

Their life away from the workplace will illuminate the causes and activities they find meaningful, which can play a role in how they choose to spend their wealth.

Again, these answers are not foolproof, but you should walk away from your meeting with a better idea of their interests, linkage, and financial capacity.


Discussing a prospect’s dreams is an invaluable way to learn about their priorities and aspirations.

In essence, you want to spend time asking them big questions about the future.

How would they like to leave a legacy?

What would this look like to their loved ones and the causes they care about?

Have they ever thought about how your organization might enable them to accomplish one of their dreams?

Questions like these determine if your organization fits into their philanthropic priorities.

Perhaps they’ve always dreamed of supporting cancer research because they want to help eradicate the disease. If your organization’s mission aligns with their priorities, start to discuss tangible ways of making their visions a reality.

While other pieces of FORD have focused on capacity and readiness, this tenant will allow you to understand a prospect’s inclination to support your organization.

Implications of FORD

Whether you’re new to fundraising or a seasoned professional, the FORD method will provide you with a reliable framework to talk to anyone.

By discussing family, occupation, reaction, and dreams, you can draw together a picture of whether an individual is truly a prospect for your organization.  

The FORD method assesses if a prospect is ready to have a gift conversation, as well as have the capacity to make an investment, and if they would consider your organization as part of their overall philanthropic priorities.

Before you know it, incorporating the FORD method into your work will allow you to meaningfully connect with anyone and advance relationships faster than an EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 Ford GT!