Art of the Ask: 10 Steps to a Yes!

In my 13 years as an Executive Director I’ve raised over ten million dollars.  Along the way I’ve learned a lot about what works when it comes to major gifts, what doesn’t work and how to keep my cool making an ask.  But let’s cut to the chase.  Let’s get the juicy part.  Did I ever flub an ask?  Were there times when I was so nervous I could barely get the words out?  Did I ever ask for too much (yes)?  Too little (of course)? 

Because you are thinking, how can I not be THAT GUY?  

Feeling nervous is normal.  Everyone has fears; it’s what you do with your fear that determines if you’ll be successful.  Here are my top ten tips to prepare for the best ask of your life.    

  1. Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate.  You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date.  Has your prospect been properly cultivated for this ask?  Are you should be stewarding your donors with 7 unique touches annually: a visit, a tour, prompt thank you’s, personal stories about your successes, newsletter, annual report, personal calls, etc.? 
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  What are your prospects interests?  Where did they go to school?  What is their giving pattern?  What keeps them up at night?  What are their giving priorities and where can you fit in their passions?  What is the right ask amount based on their giving history, capabilities, and priorities? 
  3.  Think about why you are here asking for money in the first place.  Reconnect with your organization’s mission and why you are involved.  You passion and commitment for the cause is one of the most important influences on your prospect. 
  4. Ask in pairs. 
  5. If you can, have a volunteer make the ask who has made a lead (or stretch) gift of their own.
  6. Never make an ask if you haven’t already given yourself.  And sorry but giving your time (as precious as we all know it is) doesn’t count! 
  7. Ask in a setting where you can have an undivided 20-30 minutes of time.  I prefer meeting in the prospects office or onsite at your agency.  If you ask over lunch in a restaurant you’re almost guaranteed 4 interruptions and the last thing you want when you are making an ask is for it to fall flat from an interruption and for you to not be able to recover. 
  8. Before you make your ask, summarize what you’ve discussed in your meeting thus far, your prospects interests, how the connect to what you do and their reflection of commitment thus far based on their prior gifts. 
  9. Talk about the impact the organization has through personal stories.  Don’t go into a laundry list of all the programs the organization does and never use acronyms.  Focus on the benefit, the impact, and vision. 
  10. Once you’ve made your ask SHUT UP AND ENJOY THE SILENCE.  If you have a glass of water, take a sip.  Do not keep talking.  Most people who keep talking after the ask talk themselves out of a gift!  Be quiet and give your prospect time to respond to your request. 

Some of my favorite ways to open my ask are, “This is important enough to me that my husband and I have made a stretch gift to invest in the project and I hope you will join us with a ________ gift” or “Can we count on you for a gift of _________________?” 

What happens next?  They might say yes, they might say no, they might ask for some time to think about it or they could offer you a lower amount.  If they want time to think about their gift set a return appointment before leaving.  If they agree, thank them.  If they offer you a lower amount you can either thank them for their generosity and accept the gift or ask if they’d prefer more time to think about it and set a return appointment.  If they say no, ask if it is the amount of the gift or the timing.  You can offer to stretch their gift out over time.  If that doesn’t work ask them if they will renew at their current gift level.

Regardless of their response follow up within 24 hours with a hand written thank you card and confirmation letter if they committed to an amount.  It breaks my fundraising heart when I hear about gifts that don’t go thanked.  If they made a gift send more than one thank you letter from just one person; get others involved, like your board, volunteers or recipients to let your donor know how important their gift was.  Good stewardship gets results!  If you want to learn more about how to perform fantastic stewardship you can watch a recent webinar  my colleague and I did, “The Golden Rule of Good Stewardship” complete with a free sample stewardship plan.

Remember: securing a successful gift is a combination of the right person asking the right prospect the right amount for the right purpose and in the right way.

Go forth and fundraise!