Making the Most Out of Every Ask

In the world of fundraising (especially planned giving), we’re in the business of building relationships. Going deeper into people’s interests or intentions and evolving them into purposeful actions, uniting need with source of support, whether as a volunteer, advocate, board member or major donor.

It all begins with a question…


A 3-Step Strategy to Maximize Your Success  

  1. Plan
  • Decide who you will ask. Are you talking to an individual or a couple? What do you know about them? How are they connected to your organization? What are their passions? Is this your first visit or your 5th? Who, and when, you’re asking determines your pitch, tone and approach. If you’re making several asks, set up a “playlist” of appointments and post it prominently in your office or work area so others know the game plan.
  • Know what you are asking for. Best determined with your executive director or internal staff who know the need and can discuss it in detail; more than likely your organization has established giving levels tailored to each individual ask. Donors like to be able to see the difference they make in real, concrete terms.
  • Establish the place, time and location. When you’re ready to make the call to meet, have a place already in mind, so you won’t stammer or give an “I don’t know, where would you like to meet?” response.
  • Really do it! After all this hard work, get to it. Set up the meetings; a phone call is best. A personal letter/note is great too. And, if you have to, emails in a pinch will work, but they aren’t nearly as personal and may come off as an afterthought or insensitive to your potential donor.
  1. Prepare
  • Write the script. Not one hour before your meeting or worse, on the way, in the car. Write it out if necessary and run it by your team. You’re driving this meeting. Head it in the right direction with preparation. Plan for any possible objections too!
  • Practice what you preach. Both in your head and aloud. Envision yourself sitting in your donor’s living room or at the conference table, having the conversation and making the successful ask. Visualize the most successful outcome—mutual smiles and shaking hands.
  • Continually check in with your executive director and team. Is your approach on the right track? Are you direct, specific enough? They might see a different angle or know a small detail about your donor that could seal the connection.
  1. Process

You’ve done your homework, practiced and received feedback. You’re at lunch…now what?

  • Start with the hellos, the how are yous (build rapport).
    Small talk is important talk—even if you’ve identified them as a high ‘D,’ “just the facts” type of person…be mindful of their time. Don’t underestimate this step as it loosens up the room (or table) and shows you care. Above all, no one wants to feel used during an ask.
  • Move into the meaning for the conversation.
    It’s perfectly acceptable to indicate the transition from personal to business by the pitch of your voice, how you sit, even your mannerisms. “I’m glad you could meet me today because I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this new student center that we’re building on campus. It will house our new student health and counseling center, and I believe there’s an exciting role you can play in it…”
  • Bring them into the fold.
    Set the mood and reignite the connection that they have to your organization, and that it’s been noticed. “Mrs. Johnson, I know you graduated from the University with a master’s degree in counseling and psychology, so you’ve always had an interest in healing and helping others. Since graduation, you’ve stayed in touch with the University, attending nearly every fall alumni reunion. You also contribute to our annual campaign and you’ve even made a generous gift to the University in your will. The University has certainly played an important part in your life and you, to it.”
  • Remind them the importance of your work.
    Here, you’re setting up the exclusivity of your organization’s mission and its impact on the people, community and world it serves, as well as the present-day situation you’re seeking to change. “In just the last five years, we have seen a 150 percent increase in the number of students seeking health and counseling services on campus. We don’t have enough room or staff to care for them in our outdated facilities. That means every day, on average, we’re turning away 20-25 students. That’s 20-25 too many as I see it and I know you do too.”
  • Set the achievement before their eyes.
    Present the happy ending, the “why” behind the ask. “We are building a larger, more modern health and counseling center wing within the new student center to treat those students we are having to turn away today, with room for anticipated future growth.”
  • Ask them to be a part—by coming together.
    This is where you officially make the ask using as much specific language as possible but leaving the door open for other options to emerge. “This is where you can help make the difference. We would love for you to play a prominent role in the center’s future. We have many exciting giving opportunities available, but I thought you might be most interested in contributing to the new ‘helping and healing’ wing of our center, wherein present and past students, like yourself, can continue to impact the community…”

Now, we get to ask you:

  • What techniques and strategies have worked well for you in your previous “asks”?
  • Anything that worked especially well … or poorly?

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