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Exactly How to Ask for a Gift

Major gift work is like painting.  Professional painters will tell you that 90% of the job is in the preparation.  The time and care you take in prepping the wall (that is, preparing the donor for your ask) will determine how things turn out.

I want to be sure of three things before I ask.  One, I know enough about the donor to have at least a ballpark sense of her or his capacity to make a gift.  Two, I have a pretty good sense of the project the donor will respond to with interest.  And three, there is some relationship between the donor and me.  I know her and she knows me.  And if the primary relationship between the donor and our organization is not with me, that I know where the relationship lies and have leveraged that in some way.

What I do now, this fall, is going to have a direct influence on asks I am going to make in 2019.  A note at Thanksgiving.  Stopping by around the holidays, just to say hello.  Adding a word or two of personal thanks when the annual gift comes in.  Am I treating this donor with sincerity?  People notice.

As you make more and more visits, and get to know this one donor better and better, you’ll know when the time is right to ask for the gift.  Many fundraisers approach this moment with trepidation.  It’s fear of the unknown.  The more asks you make, the more confident you’ll be.  You will know what to expect and how to react to the donor.  Go for it.  There is no substitute for experience in major gift fundraising.

Use one of these three phrases to ask for a gift:

“Mary, will you and John join the Smiths and others in supporting this project with a gift of $___?”

“Can we discuss your support of this project?”  If you get a “yes” or a nod, immediately ask “Is a gift of $____ something you would consider?”  If you get a “this isn’t the best time” answer “I understand.  When might be a better time?”

“I know you believe this is important to (your organization).  Will you make a gift of $____ to make this happen?”

Honestly, the exact words you use really don’t matter.  The donor is thinking about her or his relationship with you and your organization, and about the project you are bringing to their attention.  If you are genuine and sincere in the way you ask, any words will do.

The most difficult thing once you ask is to shut up and give the person a chance to respond.  This is the single most important element of the ask.  Continuing to talk after the ask is called, “stepping on the ask.”  Avoid this.

The ask must be the very last element of your visit.  The old phrase is, “If you want the cash, end with the ask.”

Once you’ve asked, the natural tendency will be to look away.  Don’t do this.  Maintain your eye contact with the donor with a pleasant look on your face.  The donor is looking for a clue to know whether you think this is a crazy thing you just asked him to do, or whether it is something she should absolutely consider.  If you look away it greatly diminishes the credibility of your request.

The donor responds.  When he or she does you must listen very closely to what is said!  If the answer is “yes,” hooray!  Move to a discussion of how the donor wants to make the gift, if the donor will allow you to announce the gift, any naming opportunity that should be discussed, and other appropriate points.  Above all, say thank you!  Have a big smile on your face and shake the person’s hand

But if the donor voices a concern or hesitancy to make the gift you’ve asked for, it is your job right then and there to find the concern and address it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how to do that.

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