Avoid These 10 Common Mistakes When Making the Ask

Money is something Americans just won’t talk about. We don’t discuss how much we make, how much we spend, how much we save or anything, really, regarding finances. This taboo is universal; studies from around the world reveal that people would rather talk about death than money. (And planned giving professionals have to address both!)

Is it any wonder that making the ask is such a formidable challenge?

The Meeting Goes Better When You Don’t…

It’s easy to put enormous pressure on yourself. So much seems to be riding on the outcome, not just in terms of your mission but in terms of your goals, performance metrics and deadlines.

You want to make an ask that encourages a strong bias toward action. You want your prospect to do something that’s in their best interest and that benefits your organization. You want a “yes.”

To get there, avoid a few common mistakes. For example:

  1. Don’t put it off. Really do it! After all your hard work, set up the meeting and arrange for the right people to be there. We say that the enemy of estate planning is not “no,” it’s “later.” The same is true for your meeting. Here’s a sample script for your approach.
  2. Don’t blindside the donor. Prepare them before the ask meeting so they know what will be happening and can invite significant others to be present.
  3. Don’t use a canned approach. Customize the ask by reminding them of the things they said are important and the impact their generous gift will have. Make it emotional and personal. Tap into “yes” emotions. (Psst: There’s research on the “yes!”.)
  4. Don’t stick blindly to the agenda. This is especially if important concerns surface right away. Circumstances can change. Deal with the issues and then decide if it is still appropriate to make the ask. For help see our 8 tips for handling an objection.
  5. Don’t pressure the donor. They need patience, space to digest and think—and time to fully trust you and the organization. Remind them of the impact the gift will have when they are ready to decide. (Rushing the gift is a biggie. We have a whole blog about it.)
  6. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. Authenticity and trustworthiness have only grown in importance to donors. The 2020 Leaving a Legacy study from Giving USA showed that confidence in the organization’s longevity was a key factor in giving. Be realistic about what your organization can do and what you can do to fulfill the donor’s goals.
  7. Don’t waffle. Aim for confidence and enthusiasm. Practice is the best way to get there.
  8. Don’t talk the donor out of the gift. After asking, wait for the donor to speak. Let them stop and think. This may feel awkward, but when you’re talking you’re not listening.
  9. Don’t leave details hanging. You might be ecstatic about getting a yes to your ask, but don’t forget to outline the next steps (e.g., signing a letter of intent or pledge document, etc.). Provide dates and times to make it official.
  10. Don’t announce the gift prematurely. Make sure you have permission from the donor and steward them according to their wishes.

A Sports Analogy

I love a good sports analogy (and in the heart of football season it’s what every weekend is about at my house). Well, sports psychologists teach their athletes to have process goals, rather than outcome goals. The research says this is the way of achieving their best performance under pressure because process goals are completely under your control.

For example, a professional golfer may have a major tournament on the line with a single putt. In that moment she focuses on the grip, the stance, the strike…not the win.

Making the ask, I think, is all about focusing on the process, too.

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