As a leader of a global anti-human trafficking organization serving some of the most underserved populations, I am energized by my sensitivity to others’ needs. This empathy compels me to form strong relationships with not only the clients I serve through Nomi Network, but with our invaluable donors as well — and connecting the two is my passion.

Recently, I was told by a potential donor that she has hundreds of millions to donate but has no “bandwidth” to learn about the issue of human trafficking and address the deeper needs of the communities I serve. Surprisingly, it was easy for me to empathize with her. Major donors are constantly solicited in the philanthropic world. And as a nonprofit leader who’s been navigating a worldwide pandemic for the last seventeen months, I know what it means to feel stretched thin. But in that moment, I wished the same level of understanding was reciprocated to me — at least long enough to hear about the direness of the communities we work in, and most importantly the women we serve who have been subject to even greater levels of violence during the pandemic.

During the founding years of Nomi Network, I remember how potential donors would linger after my speaking engagements and ask me to share my “deeper why.” They wanted to know why someone as accomplished as myself would leave the corporate world and start an anti-human trafficking organization. Others asked if I was from Cambodia, which I assume is because of their notoriously high rates of child sex trafficking. Another potential donor asked my Indian American colleague if she was “Nomi,” the namesake of Nomi Network, a child survivor from Cambodia. I have even been asked if I am related to Chairman Mao, due to my last name. At first glance, these questions may seem innocent. But when I pause to consider the mindset behind them, I feel minimized and discouraged.

Zoom out for a moment and imagine yourself as a major donor who is headed to meet with the leader of a burgeoning anti-trafficking organization. She shares how women and girls make up 71 percent of the 40 million people living in modern slavery. Over the last decade, her team has created a scalable program model that has helped over 12,000 women and girls reach economic freedom. The leader continues to share all the organization’s programs and their empowerment model that has helped sustain inter-generational impact. You also are aware of the many accolades they have received for their work. How would you respond? After listening to her 5-year vision, what would you hear? What questions would you be compelled to ask first?

Read the full article about asking the right questions by Diana Mao at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.