Steps To Making A Successful Ask

If the role of money is to transfer value (see post on this by clicking here), and you have a donor who loves your organization and is comfortable with your relationship, then it’s time to ask the donor the following question:

What would it take for you to consider making a major gift to our organization?

This question could be the most important question you will ever ask.  In some respects, it is like a classic business question, i.e., what do YOU want in return for what you will get?

Notice the context for the question:  “What do YOU want in return for your gift?”

If you don’t know the answer to this question, then you have no business asking the donor for money.

I can’t tell you the hundreds of times I have talked to MGOs who have no idea what the interest of the donor is and believe that one approach to all donors is effective – as if all donors are the same!

Most asks fail right at this point – a lack of knowledge about what the donor wants from the giving transaction.

So, your first order of business with every donor is to figure out a way to uncover this information.  I suggest:

  • asking the donor, when you first connect, why they give to your organization.  Then…
  • asking the donor, the next time you connect, why they give to your organization.  Then…
  • you keep asking the donor why they give to your organization.  You never fail to be curious and inquiring about this.  I know you know not to be a pest on this topic.  But there is a way to keep probing.

My point is that there IS an answer.  One of the most frustrating things I hear from MGOs is “They don’t have a specific interest, Richard.  They just love US.  That is why they give.”

No.  That’s not true!  They do have a reason. You just haven’t found it yet.  And it’s because the trust level has not been built up to the point where the donor will reveal it you.

So, file this fact away.  If you don’t know what the interest of the donor is,  it is because you have not built enough trust and relationship to have the donor reveal that information to you.  And,  if that is true, then you had better be about building the relationship.

But I digress.

Turning back to getting ready for the ask, here are the basic steps I suggest, all of which have nuance and details below each one:

  1. Have a clear understanding of why the donor gives to the organization and what he or she  expects  from the giving transaction.
  2. Match that information to a need in the organization. Be prepared to talk about how that need will be met.
  3. Determine a gift ask amount that fits the donors’ past giving and their capacity.
  4. Be prepared to offer “terms” for their gift, i.e., they can give $75,000 as a one time gift or make three payments of $25,000.
  5. Uncover stories that bring the need of the organization to life.  Stories about people in need,  a critical environmental situation,  animals that need help,  etc.  Make sure these stories grab the heart and are emotional.
  6. Secure pictures and video to support the stories.
  7. Use the resources in points 1-6 to create a case for support – a reason you are asking for the gift.  Include in that case a clear description of the need and what the donor can do to meet that need.  When writing this remember what the donor wants from the giving transaction.
  8. Include third party independent testimony as to why giving to your organization is important, a good use of money,  and safe.
  9. Think of the five possible objections to your presentation and be prepared with answers.
  10. Practice delivering your presentation to the donor.

OK, now you are ready to ask.

Ease into the meeting with appropriate “introductory talk,” but don’t let it set the tone for the meeting.  Successful fundraisers exude energy and passion, and invite trust in themselves and the organization.  Here are some helpful hints to manage the meeting:

  1. Opening
  • Get the donor’s attentionI’m here today to talk to you about how you can profoundly impact the lives of future generations by (insert what the donor wants from the giving transaction). 
  • Gain Common ground…here you talk about all the donor has done in the past – all the connections they have had,  all the good they have done,  etc.

  2. Presentation

Move into your presentation.  But,  don’t deliver the prepared oral presentation as a presentation. Rather, use it as a guide.  Listen carefully for objections or flags that signal the donor is more interested in certain aspects.  Be agile enough to respond accordingly.

Ask questions to keep the donor engaged and to gauge their interest.  Did I explain that adequately…how do you feel about that idea…what ideas do you have for…?

 3.  Make the Ask

Now that you have explained the project or goal, be clear, concise and precise in conveying the ask amount.  After asking for a specific amount for a specific outcome, pause.  For example…

  • I am asking for your commitment of…for…then wait until they respond.
  • We seek your consideration of a gift of…for…then wait until they respond.
  • We are seeking your leadership and asking for consideration of a gift of…to further our shared vision of….then wait until they respond. 

The donor’s response could be an enthusiastic “yes!”  More likely, the donor will not want to make an immediate commitment and may even say something along the lines of “no.”  Or, they may have one or more objections (look for my next post on objections).

But if you clearly know what the donor wants from the giving transaction and you have prepared well, you will likely have a positive answer, one that will bring great joy to the donor (your first objective) and resources to the organization to fund program.

You may be reading this post and saying:  “Hmmmm….Richard didn’t give much information on how to make the ask.”

You could look at it that way.

Or, you could see the point I am trying to make, that the success of the ask is really more about two things:  (1) Knowing what the donor wants out of the giving transaction, and (2) Having a solid relationship that is built on trust and openness.

If these two things are in place, asking for the money will be like falling off a log.

Try it.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Marketing Plans, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Steps To Making A Successful Ask

  1. Always so good and so generous in the giving of excellent advice and encouragement. I have commented along these lines before and will do so again today: Thank you. Jim Schaffer

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