Last week my friend Elisabeth gave her tips for young grant-makers. As a professional fundraiser, I thought it was interesting to hear about the problems of working on “the other side of the fence”.
This week it’s my job to tackle the ask. Particularly during the early stages of a fundraiser’s career, you will wear many hats: being responsible for management of prospect data; becoming an expert about your non-profit; cultivating potential donors; conducting prospect research; implementing annual funds; and being accountable for many other tasks.
There are many great ways to identify and familiarize yourself with your top donors, as well as raise some money along the way. But, at the end of the day, there is no better way to raise money than to simply ask for it.
My Top 10 Tips for Making the “Ask”
- Know your non-profit. Before anything else, as a fundraiser, you must know the ins and outs of your non-profit. Read about your non-profit, familiarize yourself with its history, and ask fellow colleagues to tell you about what might not be documented. What makes your non-profit unique? Then, commit yourself to your non-profit’s specific and special case for support. The history and case for support of your non-profit are what your donors care about, and what they are investing in.
- Identify the best potential prospects to be major gift donors – focus on them first. Major gift prospects are donors who already have a strong history of generosity towards your non-profit. When raising funds for a particular project, you should first choose to solicit donors who most identify with the case for support. Look at each donor’s pattern of giving, especially whether or not their annual gifts have increased or decreased recently. Research online. Ask your best prospects for their gifts first, and then move to the next most likely donor. This strategy will help to build momentum.
- Schedule the “ask” in an environment that is comfortable for all parties. If you personally know the donor, you should schedule the solicitation yourself. When scheduling, explain to the donor that your non-profit is embarking on an exciting project and you would like to share the details of this project personally. Conduct the meeting at a location where the prospect is most comfortable – at the donor’s home, workplace or in a neutral location. If you do not know the donor, your non-profit colleague or campaign committee member with the closest relationship to the donor should schedule the solicitation and be present for it as well. You want the donor to feel comfortable, and most importantly, you want him or her to say “yes” to the solicitation meeting.
- Practice. Especially if making the “ask” is new to you, be sure to practice. Know your non-profit, know your donor, and review a script. Draft sample scenarios and reactions, and practice how you will respond. In fact, a great way to practice is to ask your colleagues, friends, or your parents for money. Convince your friend why he or she should donate to your non-profit. Remember that soliciting personal associates can actually be more difficult and nerve-racking than soliciting a donor.
- Remain Enthusiastic. During the solicitation, be sure to thank the donor for past generosity, and explain that because of this past generosity you wanted to speak personally about the future of your non-profit. Present the project and the case for support. Explain why this is an exciting opportunity for your non-profit. Bring the donor into this excitement by allowing him or her to identify with the project by making it relative to his or her interests and connection to your non-profit. No matter what happens during the solicitation, be enthusiastic about your non-profit and specifically the case for support. If you believe in your case, and the donor has a history of support, your enthusiasm will transfer to the prospect.
- Listen. During the conversation leading up to the actual “ask”, be sure to listen to what your donor says. You should be able to sense even before making the “ask”, how the donor might react. Has the donor been positive or negative from the beginning? Have you been able to get the donor to relate to the case for support?
- Consider. When you have finished presenting the case, ask the donor to consider a specific gift amount. If it is a pledge commitment, you may want to break the request amount down. For example, if you are asking for a $100,000 pledge over 5 years, ask the donor to “consider a gift of $20,000 this year and for each of the next four years, for a total commitment of $100,000.” You are not asking for the gift amount to be determined immediately, you are asking for the donor to consider a commitment to your non-profit. Give him or her time to think after you have made the request. Let the donor respond first.
- Let the Case Speak for Itself. A donor will respond in a number of ways. “Yes” on the spot is a rare response, but it does happen and in this case be sure to confirm this commitment. If a donor says “No,” thank him or her for coming to the meeting, and be sure that he or she leaves with the campaign materials in case there is a change of heart. The most common answer to a gift request is some variation of “maybe”. It is now up to the donor to consider his or her gift, based in the case for support, so let the case speak for itself. Go over any campaign material you may have prepared (a request letter, brochure, naming opportunities, methods of giving, stock information). Ask the donor to look over the materials, speak with his or her family and/or accountant, and consider a gift. If possible, schedule a date and time for a follow-up meeting or phone call.
- Follow-up. Follow-up is imperative, no matter your donor’s response. Following the “ask”, mail your potential donor a thank you letter, either for his or her pledge or a thank you letter for meeting with you. During the follow-up phone call or meeting, remember that you are offering the donor a chance to be a partner in a special opportunity for your non-profit. Do not be apologetic; the donor has a history of generosity towards your non-profit. Thank the donor again for considering the request, and ask if he or she has made a decision about his or her commitment.
- Cultivate. After a gift or pledge is made, keep the donor close. Be sure to update him or her on the project(s) they have donated to and that all tax letters are sent and received on time. If there are any difficulties with processing the gift, or questions about gifts of stock, etc. answer them in a timely manner. Be respectful of the fact that the donor has made a sacrificial gift and deserves to be in the loop about the work your non-profit is doing. This will make it much easier to ask them for another gift in the future!