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  • Writer's pictureDebra A. Gill

You’ll Never Know Unless You Ask

The right way to a yes.

Many words have been written about the art of the ask. Generations of fund-raising specialists have perfected this art while others have worked in the field for years and have yet to get traction. No matter who you are, there is a unique confidence that must accompany asking someone for a significant gift in exchange for the most selfless return of all – philanthropic impact.

Get it right with the right person/team asking the right donors for the right gift for the right amount at the right time with the right strategy. The following steps fall into place only after the appropriate amount of cultivation has taken place with a solid strategy for the solicitation.

The Right Person/Team – Going into a giving conversation with the right solicitation team is essential. One rule of thumb is not to outnumber your donors but at the same time, solo asking can be less effective than the team approach. I’m a huge fan of volunteer participation – preferably someone close to the donors who is a social and economic peer. This opens the door to authentic testimony from someone who isn’t compensated to raise funds. The team is led by a well-prepared staff member who is accustomed to asking for money. Both askers will have made their personal gifts prior to the solicitation and are well prepared.

The Right Donors – Having the right people at the table, including all decision-makers, is key whether it be a couple or involving children and other stakeholders. According to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 61.5% of couples make giving decisions together but when one partner decides in the household, it is more likely to be a woman. Not involving both partners is the quickest path to a no. For corporate approaches, including all partners is similarly advantageous. If the right people aren’t in the room, the message will be less impactful when carried forward third hand.

The Right Gift – Understanding what impact the donors wish to make through prior discovery conversations is critical. Some prefer the immediate results of an outright gift while others seek perpetual support through endowment giving. Connect donor needs with organizational needs in a way that matches their passion with the outcome. Outline recognition opportunities that align with donor preferences.

The Right Amount – Determining the ask amount is perhaps the most challenging aspect of preparation. As one of my wise clients says, “there is an art and a science to this process.” The amount needs to be commensurate with ability, not one size fits all. Take into consideration profession/income, age, familial responsibilities, outside income sources, charitable giving levels to other organizations, and trust your gut instinct.

One rule of thumb is to ask for 2% of gross household income per year. If it is impossible to determine a specific amount, invite the donor to consider a “significant 5, 6, or 7-figure gift” as appropriate. To raise sights, always ask toward the overall need regardless of the philanthropic goal. Have courage, you won’t insult someone by over asking. The right amount is a gift that surprises the donor, gives them a strong sense of pride, and doesn’t leave money on the table.

The Right Time – The simplest determinant is when you have a high degree of confidence that the donor will say yes. They are expecting to be approached and have been properly nurtured through a solid moves management process leading up to the solicitation. In fact, they may have prompted you by asking how much you are seeking.

The Right Strategy – Donor conversations about funding require a high level of thought and planning.

Be Selective with the Location – I learned the hard way not to go to a public restaurant to make an ask. Between the interruptions, lack of privacy, and inevitable competition at the next table, there is too much chaos. Pick a location that is comfortable for the donor at their home or office or do it at the organization headquarters. Provide refreshments and create an atmosphere that appeals to the donors.

Be Prepared – The conversation should be carefully structured to allow for inspiration, education, and exchange. Each team member is well prepared, knowing the topics they will cover, emphasizing their personal reasons for giving, the case for support, the role of philanthropy, and the impact that can be made with a significant gift. Engage the donors with questions and invite input while addressing key topics within the allotted time frame.

Be Specific – Cover the necessary details such as recognition, giving methods (highlighting appreciated stock, IRA rollovers and other options fitting to the demographics of your donors) prior to asking and above all, don’t leave the donors guessing what you want. Ask for a specific dollar amount over a specific timeframe.

“We’re here today to ask you to consider a gift of $X over the next X years.”

Be QUIET – After you put the ask on the table, sit quietly and calmly until the donor speaks. Prep your co-solicitors to do the same. It may seem awkward but if you interject, you will inevitably walk the ask amount down.

Be Grateful – You may get an immediate yes or you may be told that they need some time to make their decision. Either way, end the meeting with a sincere spirit of gratitude and be very specific about follow up timing.

“Would you prefer me to follow up next week or the week after?”

Like most professional competencies, this is a skill that takes practice.

  • Role play with peers.

  • Prep with your volunteer partner.

  • Start with “low hanging fruit” or those most likely to say yes and invite them to give you feedback about your technique.

Relax. These conversations aren’t about money. You are giving donors the opportunity to make a meaningful impact based on their personal goals and values. While it may seem intimidating at first, there are three things to remember:

  • People don’t give because they aren’t asked.

  • People give more when asked for a specific amount.

  • People give to people.

Give it a try, you’ll never know unless you ask!

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their mission.

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