It takes more work to get ready for the ask than it does to actually create the ask itself. So when I hear, “I just don’t have time to do that stuff – the getting ready stuff”, I know we’re headed for trouble.
The MGO has to spend time getting to know the donor, getting to know the program and matching the donor to the program before he or she can sit down and create the ask.
This “pre-ask” work is not just the casual thing an MGO does on the side. It is very serious, time consuming in-depth work that must be done well. I think most proposals fail before the ask is created because the MGO has just not put the effort into gathering the needed information.
But once this “prep” work is done, it is time to Prepare The Ask. And the ask, in my opinion, has six elements or parts:
1. An Acknowledgement Of Past Giving and Interest Match. There is nothing more satisfying to a donor than to be thanked for his giving and to be affirmed that what he is interested in is also what the organization is interested in – that there is a solid partnership between the two parties. This affirmation of the match creates a bond between the donor and the organization – a special link that confirms to the donor that he made the right decision in giving.
2. State the need and the consequences of needs not met. It is often difficult for many non-profit “insiders” to state the need the charity is organized to meet in a compelling and emotional way. I think the reason is either familiarity or fear of saying outloud just what the horrible consequence would be if the need is not met. Let’s face it, most need is NOT pretty. It just isn’t. And there is no use in dressing it up. That’s why it’s a need – it requires a solution. It requires attention. So I recommend stating the need in a manner that replicates what the donor himself or herself would experience if they were face to face with it. And believe me, that encounter would be emotional, striking and life changing. I have seen these types of encounters happen many times – which is why I can confidently ask you to plainly, and without reservation, state the need. And then, having stated it, you should lay out the consequences of the need not met. In other words: “if we don’t take care of this, then X will happen.” And say it without editing. One of these days I am going to write a whole series of posts on why people have trouble talking about need. But I’ll save that for another day. I just encourage you to do it honestly and objectively and without editing out the feelings you have about it. And while you are writing about need, include real life stories and pictures of people (with their permission) to illustrate what you are talking about. Put flesh into the story.
3. State what you are going to do. This is the program part. And this needs to be specific, logical and caring. Most program write-ups are filled with so much technical jargon that (a) I can’t understand them and (b) they don’t grab my heart. Sometimes I think program people write for other program people or for their manager or for the technical expert in the field vs. just explaining the program and stating what they propose to do and how that will make a difference. I just want to grab that writer and say, “Look, we’re trying to get something special done here for another person or for the environment.” Just say it plainly. We don’t need all that dressing up. And we certainly don’t want to have to use a technical lexicon or dictionary just to help us interpret what you are saying.” So keep this simple and to the point. And when you read what you have written, ask yourself, “Does this really solve the problem outlined in point #2 above? Really?” If not, keep writing.
4. Talk about the impact you will have. This is the proof of success part. Here is where you include ways the organization has been successful in the past in this very area, proving that it can be done again. Here is where you tell stories and show pictures of the impact you have already had. Remember, the “doing” part (point #3) only tells half of the story – it says what you will do, not the result you will have. It’s the result that the donors are “buying” through their giving. They want to solve the problem. You need to give them a belief that if they give, they actually will solve the problem.
5. The budget details. So here is where you get into what it will cost to do all of this. Be sure and include all the costs, including overhead – overhead of the project itself and an allocated portion of your organization’s overhead.
6. The gift plan. Now you come to the part of the ask where you lay out the plan for the donor and how you are proposing she will respond financially to this need and the proposed solution. I call it a gift plan because it may be a single gift you are asking for, it may be a series of gifts over time, it may be a combination of cash and non-cash inputs, or it could be a combination of any of these or other ways the donor proposes she would like to be involved. That’s why it’s a plan. It’s a forward-looking, longer term thing. And on this thing about longer term, let me repeat something Jeff and I have been saying very frequently. This whole concept of the annual gift is really wrong thinking. The annual gift focuses the transaction on the organization and a specific point in time. The gift plan focuses the donor on the solution to a problem that needs solving. There is a huge difference. And believe me, the gift plan is far more satisfying to a donor than meeting a time specific quota.
Now you are ready to actually “do the ask”. This is gonna be good! And actually, it’s the best part, because this is where you look the donor in the eye and propose something that will bring him tremendous joy and fulfillment. I can hardly wait!