So, you’ve identified your potential lead giver, you know your project inside out and the benefits it will bring, and it’s time to make “the ask”. Clive Pedley demystifies the critical meeting at which the “rubber hits the road.”
Asking for big gifts is something most people avoid, however it can be one of the most rewarding experiences in fundraising. It will normally follow detailed research, different levels of engagement and the realisation that there is a wonderful overlap between the vision of the organisation and the values of the donor.
The importance of the sequential process involved in asking for major gifts cannot be overlooked amidst the passion of wanting to secure a significant donation. The ask meeting is simply the culmination of the many planning and preparation steps that enable you to sit down confidently with a donor and make your case.
One of the key aspects of the ask process involves building a profile of the prospect to gain an understanding of their motivations, financial position, and likely level of interest in your project. You need to be sure that any potential donor being asked for a big gift is ready to listen to the vision with enthusiasm, receive the request with understanding and empathy, and is able to respond generously.
The temptation to rush an ask for a major gift when a meaningful link with a wealthy individual, corporate supporter or funding source has been established can be a tough test for the most patient fundraiser.
There are three critical components in asking for a big gift.
1. The right asker
Simply put, the person making the ask should be the person who is likely to have the greatest influence with the potential donor. Many nonprofits involve volunteers on their boards or fundraising committees who are “people of influence.” They might be respected business people or others with high standing in the community.
Ideally the asker will be someone who has established a relationship with the potential donor based on earned respect. The asker might also be somebody for whom the donor will find it very difficult to say no to.
Ask meetings usually involve a team approach. Attending the meeting will be the influential volunteer (asker), the leader of the nonprofit (sells the project or vision), and usually the fundraiser (who keeps the meeting on track). In the absence of an influential volunteer, the next best person to make the ask is the CEO of the nonprofit.
The fundraiser is usually not the best asker for a variety of reasons. However, in the absence of an effective volunteer or CEO, the fundraiser can be successful because they have been intimately involved in preparing, researching and planning the ask. This enables them to voice the need, explain the project, and how the potential donor can make a difference with their support.
2. During the ask meeting
There are some common attributes to most successful asks:
One of the asking team will articulate the difference the gift will make. This needs to be explained in a compelling way that demonstrates the overlap of values with the donor. Outline how the prospect can make their gift (eg: a pledge over five years), and have alternative options. Having the information available to outline these in suitable detail is very important. Wording the ask is very important – something like “In your opinion, do you feel you can give a gift of $X per year for the next Y years as a leadership gift towards this project?” can be effective. Always ask for a defined dollar amount. If you don’t actually vocalise what you are asking for, how will the donor know what you need to fulfil your project? Donors need to be guided. If you don’t ask for a specific amount the donor might offer $2,000 when you were hoping for $200,000. 3. Listen throughout the solicitation process
In every step of the solicitation process it is very important to listen carefully to the donor. Their motivation can only be understood, and thereby provide you with the best opportunity for fundraising success, when you have listened.
One of the most common reasons for not following through with an ask is the fear of a negative response. At those times I try to quickly assess the worst case outcome (the person will say no and perhaps think I was rude for asking), then press on for the greater good of the project and organisation.
Making a major ask does get easier with experience, and can be one of the most rewarding parts of fundraising.