Fear Of The Ask

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Let’s jump to the worst possible “phone scenario.”  You make the introductory phone call, and the potential donor immediately says, “What are you asking me for? Money?” This is not the time to obfuscate. Say it proudly, “Yes, eventually, but not now. At this point, I just want to meet with you to discuss an opportunity for involvement in a program that I think will interest you. I am hoping that once you get to know us better you will be inspired to give, but you are by no means under any obligation to do so.”  You get the appointment. Now relax, a first meeting rarely produces a donation. You are not there to leave with one. You are only there to cultivate interest and create a relationship.

As for the face-to-face discussion, use whatever approach you think is best for the individual. We recommend that you have a prospect research file prepared beforehand. Make sure to read our blog post on prospect research beforehand.  With knowledge about the donor, their giving priorities, and giving history; you’re ready for a conversation.

Three successful and frequently used donor approaches are:

  • Ask the potential donor questions about his or her experiences in relation to your organization’s mission. i.e. “I see that you have a real interest in the arts. What led you to focus your philanthropy in that particular field?”
  • Ask him/her questions about the motivation to give and, if you don’t know this already, what it is about your organization, in particular, that would make him/her want to support you?
  • Talk about why you became attracted to and wanted to work for your organization and then ask her/him to describe what it is about your organization that he/she is most attracted to.

Remember to listen carefully!  The heart of successfully engaging donors starts with listening deeply to them, to their wants, interests, and desires.  Listening carefully is an art.  An experienced fundraiser listens to a donor to learn about the donor’s interests and to determine where those interests intersect with the needs of the charitable organization.  In this day and age, skilled listening also involves keeping an ear tuned to match tax-reduction strategies with the myriad ways a donor might contribute through planned giving.  A check or cash gift might not be the most efficient way for a major donor to give.

Again, unless the potential donor brings it up, during the first meeting, do not even think about asking for money. Isn’t that a relief? You are there to give the potential donor an opportunity to be a part of something important. If you position yourself correctly, you may be surprised, when on your second or third meeting; this potential donor turns to you and asks, “So how much do you need for this project? Tell me how I can help?”

I hope this allays some of your ‘fear of the ask’. Always enjoy the opportunity you have in your role to speak with donors about the wonderful work you do, and the tremendous impact their gift could have.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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