Making the Ask

Category Archives — Making the Ask

I hate asking for money

You are dedicated to the cause. Your nonprofit is wonderful. You hate asking for money. 

Why is that? 

Why do so many passionate and otherwise engaged board members and, secret be told, staff members, too, run in the opposite direction when it comes to major gift “asks”?

Seven Reasons You Might Hate Asking for Money–and Possible New Perspectives

  1. The arm twist.
    These are not gifts based on passion and connection to your organization. They are often based on repaying a favor, currying favor or playing a power card of some sort. I’d hate this too. 
  2. I’ll give to yours if you give to mine.
    This is a variation of the arm twist, in that you are asking someone to make a gift to an organization with which he or she has limited or no involvement. In the short-run, money swirls around. But there is no real long-term gain unless connections develop.
  3. You don’t know what to do and what to say.
    You can’t possibly know how to make an “ask” if you haven’t been trained. In addition to training, I recommend a practice round or two with mid-tier donors who are not your prime prospects.  (Training note: You are over half way there if you are passionate and knowledgeable about your organization and a good listener. Be the ambassador for your organization that you usually are.  You’ll just be adding a few techniques to your repertoire.)
  4. You don’t trust the ask amount.
    Should I really be asking this person for this much?  Not to worry. Donors are typically flattered by the “over ask.”  Why wouldn’t they be? And there are strategic “negotiation” benefits for starting high—but that’s a subject for another day. (Yes, there is a too much—but it needs to be way off base.) If you properly research the donor, you will be in the right ballpark.
  5. Money talk is taboo in our culture.
    True, but what you are doing is inviting someone to support a cause and organization in which he or she believes.  The connection and desire to give have already been expressed with smaller gifts.  You are providing the donor with the opportunity to play a larger role. Research assures us that this donor has the financial wherewithal to make this level gift if he or she so chooses.  And that’s all it is—a choice.  A choice that comes with a slew of benefits, both tangible and intangible.  This is bad?
  6. The prospect might say, “no.”
    You can count on “no’s.” In fact, fundraising research tells us that you are likely to have to make anywhere from two to five asks per gift. That’s lots of “no’s.” The path to success is to keep asking. Plus, there is a benefit to every in-person conversation with a donor. It builds the relationship. Check out my blog entry, “Every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’” and move right past the “no’s.”
  7. You believe the experience of giving is negative for the donor.
    I may have saved the best for last:  There is a body of scientific research that tells us giving is good for your health. When you make an “ask,” you are not harming the donor or otherwise inflicting pain. Quite the contrary!  You are opening the door to the pleasure center of the brain lighting up, blood pressure dropping, immune system boosting, stress reducing experience.  The donor will feel good!  And, by the way, so will you!  (For more about this research, visit my blog entry: “Giving is good for your health!”)

May I suggest that you are doing a major gift prospect a favor when you invite the opportunity for greater involvement in a cause he or she believes in—that’s right, a favor.

Feel any better?

Want to make a successful “ask”? Silence, please.

You can talk your way right out of a major gift.

Let’s set the stage: So, here you are, with your colleague, seated in the prospect’s living room, sipping the coffee you were offered.  You’ve spent the first 30 to 45 minutes of the meeting re-connecting, telling your story based on the prospect’s interests, listening and responding. 

 It is now time to make the “ask.”  You say, “So Susan, we’d like you to consider a gift of $<pre-determined gift amount> to support <project, program, campaign or organization>.

 And now, here it comes:  BE QUIET!

 Repeat:  Be quiet.  Do not speak again until the prospect responds.   

Why?  If you speak before the prospect answers you are:

  1. Negotiating against yourself (the prospect hasn’t said anything yet)!
  2. Distracting the prospect (give the person space to consider your request)
  3. Signaling that you are nervous
  4. Missing the prospect’s core reaction 

You’ve put a lot of time and energy into setting up the “ask.”   Don’t do the talking for your prospect.

Silence, please.

To learn more about making the “ask”?

  • Google—you’ll find lots of information and training programs.
  • AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) conferences, workshops and trainings
  • Can I toot my own horn?

Pick up the phone!

Major gifts are all about building personal relationships with prospective major donors. So…

 If your inclination is to write a letter -> Pick up the phone.

 If your inclination is to print a brochure -> Pick up the phone.

 If your inclination is to send an email -> Pick up the phone.

 If your inclination is to produce a newsletter -> Pick up the phone.

 If your inclination is to slice your donor database every which way -> Pick up the phone.

 If your inclination is to have a staff meeting (you really hate picking up the phone).

 You need to meet with your prospects. 

Practice works!

If the thought of picking up the phone and setting up a meeting (and that’s all you want to do on the phone—set up a meeting) gives you angst, take away the pressure. Put your major gift prospects aside and practice on three mid-tier donors who have been supporting you for several years. Select any three. Pick up the phone and make an appointment.  No expectations. These are practice visits. Your only objectives are to:

  • Thank the donor for his or her support (that’s easy).
  • Learn more about the donor (ask questions and listen).
  • Conclude the meeting with an announced follow-up plan (which may be anything from, “Thank you for taking the time. It’s so valuable to meet with our supporters and find out first hand what they are thinking. We look forward to your continued support” to agreement on a follow-up step, e.g., “So I’ll call you next week with the answer to that question.  Is mid-week a good time?” 
  • Record your notes from the meeting.

If these “practice donors” ask you if you are meeting with them to ask for money, you can honestly say, “no.”  And once you say “no” to these “practice donors” or anyone else, do NOT make an “ask” during the visit.

 Get comfortable meeting with your donors. 

 You may even find that you enjoy it!

Giving is good for your health!

Science, lots of science, tells us that giving is good for your health.

The good feeling you get when you volunteer or write a check to a cause you care about is very real and physiologically based. Altruistic behavior has been scientifically shown to stimulate the brain’s reward/pleasure center and strengthen the immune system, to cite two examples. The result is better health, including less stress, anxiety and depression.

In a 2006 study, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to track brain activity of subjects who were presented a variety of scenarios that involved accepting monetary pay-offs vs. making contributions to real-life charities.

The study is titled, “Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decision about charitable donation” by Jorge Moll et al and appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), October 17, 2006, vol 103, no 42.

The researchers surprise is reflected in the last line of the introductory blurb: “Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.”In more accessible language, given that humans are wired for self-preservation, it is unexpected that the altruistic choice (the choice to donate) not the selfish choice (the choice to keep the money) lights up the portion of the brain associated with primary rewards such as food and sex.

In a 1988 study, psychologist David McClelland found that even thinking about doing good had a positive impact on the immune system. Let’s repeat this one: The mere act of thinking about doing good had impact. Wow! In what has become known as the “Mother Teresa effect,” Harvard students watched a film of Mother Teresa caring for orphans in Calcutta. The students who watched the film had significant increases in the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A. Furthermore, the immunoglobulin A remained high for over an hour after the film when students were asked to focus on loving or being loved. The study, “The effect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immunoglobulin” by David McClelland et al, appeared in Psychology and Health, Vol. 2, pp. 31-52.

To those of us volunteering and donating, this evidence is not surprising. Scientists are beginning to document what we’ve known all along, but couldn’t really explain.

I wrote this blog entry, in part, for everyone out there who hates to ask for major gifts. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider that stance.

Science tells us that making a major gift to a cherished cause produces health benefits that emanate from primal places deep in the brain.

Create a positive primal experience for a donor. Just ask!