The Art and Science of “The Ask”

I was recently invited to sit in on a mock presentation in which the real presentation was  to be made to a donor to request a sizable major gift.

The organization had been working on this gift for months.  At the end of this presentation I was in awe – not just because the person delivering the presentation and the ask were amazing…though they were.  No, it was the amount of preparation, thought, and hard work put in by several departments that had to come together to make this happen.

So, it got me thinking.  How much effort and time do you really put into making a major gift ask to a donor?  Here are some things to think about in preparation for “the ask” that you might find helpful as you review your strategic plan and begin to talk to your donors.

Before the “ask”:

  1. Do you have agreement from management and administration that, if you can secure funding for a particular program or project, it is actually going to come about?  I know this sounds elementary, but this happens all the time.  A donor might want to fund something, but program doesn’t really want to deal with it.  The donor gives the money and then NOTHING happens.  You want agreement with all involved that this is definitely something everyone in the organization wants.
  2. Have you worked with program to make sure you have a solid, workable plan with a budget?  Again, I know this sounds fundamental, but I’ve seen rogue MGO’s promise all kinds of things to donors in order to get the gift, and only THEN go to program to see if they can pull it off.  The budget is a very important element.  Donors want to see not only how their gift is going to be used, but whether you have a long-term funding plan beyond the donor’s own gift.  You can easily say this project will cost $5MM dollars over three years, but you need to show the proof. Also, don’t forget to add the overhead to the project-make sure you add the program costs.
  3. Do you know the donor?  Richard and I have talked about this repeatedly in different circumstances, but it is especially critical when you are preparing an ask.  What are the donor’s interests and passions?  Does this ask really match who they are? How have the donors been cultivated for this gift?  Are they going to be blindsided?  How positive are you that the amount you are going to ask for is appropriate?  The worst thing you can do is to have the wrong offer at the wrong price.  If you know the donor, and you have cultivated them well, the “ask” will almost be a formality.  The donor will be waiting for you.
  4. Don’t forget this is an emotional decision.  Yes, you have to have the facts, the plan, the figures and all the details, but you ABSOLUTELY cannot forget the emotional aspect of the “ask.”  If a donor isn’t choked up at the end of your “ask” presentation, then something is wrong.  Your donor wants to help create change in the world, and you are offering them a way to do that.  That is simply amazing and you need to present it as such.
  5. Practice, practice, practice.  I know you think you can wing this thing.  Don’t succumb to that hubris of yours.  Practice your ask presentation with your colleagues.  Pretend your colleague is the donor and speak directly to her.  Have your colleague ask all the potential questions and find “holes” in your presentation to make sure you anticipate those in the actual presentation.  Make sure you have all your facts and figures right.  Make sure the plan is clear.  Make sure you have a good story and that the emotional impact is there.  Then, two days later, come back and do it again.  You want to practice this to the point that it feels natural.
  6. Relax.  On the day of the “ask” make sure you have all your materials, and that everyone is clear on their role.  Then, sit down with the donor, relax and demonstrate how he or she can change the world.  If you have done all your work, you will be fine.
  7. Be comfortable with the fact that all of this takes time.  Why do I say this? Well, over and over again, Richard and I encounter MGO’s that are in a huge rush to just “get to the ask”.  So they skip over all the steps I’ve written about above and then wonder why they were not successful.  A good ask takes a lot of preparation.  And a lot of preparation takes a lot of time.  Be comfortable with that.  Embrace it.  Do it.

If you can prepare with these seven things in mind, your ask will be amazing and your donor will feel honored, known and cared for.  Now, go on and get ready for that next amazing “ask”.  Go help change the world.

Jeff

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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, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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