Ask “Why.” Ask it More and More

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Simone JoyauxIt’s any day anywhere on planet earth. A child asks, “Why?” And the designated adult answers.

Which of course begs another “why” from the child.

Then there’s another answer. And then there’s another “why.” Over and over.

Eventually, the adult may respond with “Because.” Or “because I said so.”

Kids are great little probers. It’s one way that kids – and that included all of us at one point! – navigate the new strange world. Pathological examples of “why” are called folie du pourquoi, a mania to ask why.

Sadly, we eventually outgrow “why.”

School tests and poor teachers and exhausted parents – the way the world operates – teach us that there’s one “right” answer to just about every question. (Even I talk about the body of knowledge and get frustrated with personal opinion that has no basis in the body of knowledge.)

Questioning gets short shrift the older we get.

Think about the last board meeting you observed. Did you hear much questioning and asking “why?” Or did you hear reports and affirming decisions already made by someone?

Think about your workplace. Is it okay to question the mandates of your boss? Is it okay to push the envelope and ask “why” and then pursue other cage-rattling questions?

Too often, questioning is seen as threatening or disloyal. “Why” gets lost in the press for “how to do it better and produce better and faster results.”

Jobs in fund development soon teach us to adopt “high-probability solutions” that pretty much always produce some kind of result. “How” wins over “why” because we want better answers than we have right now.

Sometimes, though, better answers aren’t the answer.

What would really help are better questions.

It’s time to reactivate your childhood folie du pourquoi. Stop assuming there are answers. Instead, start relentlessly asking questions. Ask questions of your staff colleagues and your boss. Ask questions of your donors and prospects.

Question your fundraising methods. Question the tactics and ask “why” about the strategies. Ask why you got here and why you should go somewhere else maybe.

Think about all the cage-rattling questions you could ask. Think in terms of “why” not “how.” Without understanding the “why,” you can’t understand the “how” anyway!

A question-driven organization and corporate culture is what makes businesses thrive. A question-driven fund development program lodged inside a questioning organization will always outperform and certainly outlast a complacent program inside a complacent organization.

I’ll bet you instinctively know that asking questions is good, that exploring why is important. After all, both science and art advance by asking questions – sometimes rude, stupid, improper questions that no reasonable person would ask.

My advice to you: Don’t be one of those reasonable people. Being reasonable won’t tell you anything explosively new. Reasonable people already know the answers. Or assume those answers exist somewhere.

But lots of answers don’t exist. Each organization is different. Each time and place is different. Different mission, different vision, different values, different leadership, different community, different culture, different donors.

The most effective organizations embrace a culture of questioning and conversation. Even business management theory (like systems thinking and learning organization theories) embrace questioning.

What questions need to be asked in your organization? What questions about fund development will rattle the most cages and produce the best conversations – and chance to learn and change – in your organization?

I’m trying to promote an itch to ask lots of questions. Cage-rattling questions. Questions without known answers. Questions that turn your brain upside down and shake it until the coins fall out.

Join me. Now. Right now. Visit the Free Library on my website, You’ll find lots of cage-rattling questions for fund development and board development.