Those of us who have worked in major gift fundraising for some time hear this a lot: the ask must be made at the right time, in the right place, for the right amount, to the right person, for the right project. But how important it is really for all these “rights” to be in place? What does it mean if they are not? Here are just a few reasons why having everything in place can matter.

The right person.

This may seem obvious, but are you asking the right person for support? Is the person that you are connected with the one who makes the decisions in relation to charitable giving for the family (or the company or foundation for that matter)? Or is it a friend, spouse or colleague, who has been championing the cause?

If they are not the person that holds the purse strings, then think about how you and your contact, together, can bring them into the conversation so that you can understand more about their interest and motivations. By handling this with sensitivity and respect in relation to both people, you have a much better chance of taking this relationship to the next level.

The “right person” of course also relates to the person doing the asking. I’ve often been asked who this person should be – the executive director, chair of the board, or a friend who is connected to the organization?

The answer is not always straight forward, since motivations for giving can vary from prospect to prospect. Sometimes people give because they have been asked to do so by a contact to whom they owe a favour, but most give because they care about the cause. If that is the case, they are more likely to want to be asked by someone connected with the organization who they trust and respect, whether this person is the chair of the board or the fundraiser. It also helps if the person doing the ask has given themselves, otherwise it can be argued that they lack the right to ask for something that they themselves are not prepared to give.

The right place.

Again, there are different viewpoints on this. I’ve made the ask in various places, from coffee shops (not ideal!) to their home. In my view the best place is wherever the prospect is most comfortable to have this kind of conversation. Having said this, some of the most effective asks I’ve made have been immediately following a field visit, a tour, or other opportunity where they have seen your work in action and where they can truly visualize the impact of their support.

In the end, wherever you choose, ensure that you both have enough time, where you are unlikely to be disturbed or the prospect distracted, so that you can both focus upon the task at hand.

The right time.

This is crucial to success in major gift fundraising. If the donor is not ready to make a gift, then they might turn you down, make a much smaller gift than they could if they had been asked at the right time, or in some cases, even be offended by an approach that they feel is inappropriate.

One such incident was when a new fundraiser was at their charity’s event and started chatting with a guest who until this point was unknown to the charity. Upon discovering that this person had the potential to make a major gift, she felt that this was too good an opportunity to miss. The fundraiser decided to take the prospect to one side and started talking to them about making a substantial donation to the organization. Needless to say, the prospect was not impressed.

You should also not leave it too long. Many times in conversations with donors, they have revealed to me how they had been supporting another organization for some time, in some cases even indicating their capacity to give, but the ask never came, leading to frustration and sometimes their making the choice to move on.

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The right amount.

So what is the right amount? And why does it matter so much? Well, it’s as important for you as it is for the donor. If you are reliant on bringing in some major donations to achieve your goals, then not asking for enough from your best prospects could mean that you don’t reach your financial obligations.

For the donor, not asking for an appropriately high amount when they have already decided to make a leadership gift, can leave the donor feeling underwhelmed. Too much and the gift will be out of reach for them. It is always better to be specific about what you need from them, but if you aren’t sure about the amount to ask for, one way to handle this is to ask within a range that you have a strong sense fits within your prospect’s giving capacity.

The right project.

I have volunteered with some amazing organizations and while I may care about their mandate in general, there has always been a project that has touched my heart more than the rest. This is typically the case for your donors too.

Here’s one example of why this matters. Years ago I was volunteering on a committee and we were all asked if we could all make a donation so that we had 100% participation. We of course all agreed and the fundraiser told us that he was going to come and see us individually to talk about our gift. Later that week I received a visit from the fundraiser and was fully prepared to make my gift to the general fund.

I was surprised during this visit to realize how much he had been listening to me over the months that we had been talking and he had noticed that there was one project that I clearly felt more passionate about than any other. He came to me with a case for support based entirely upon my passion. I ended up giving three times more than I originally thought that I would, and what’s more, I was very happy to do it.

By understanding what your donors care about, and identifying the project that is really going to engage them, not only can you raise more money, but your donors will feel much more excited to be involved.

The most important factor to consider.

I’ve outlined some of the ways in which you can create the right environment for the ask, but the biggest mistake you can make in major gift fundraising is not to ask at all! Hanging around for the perfect scenario can result in you missing the opportunity all together. So whenever you are planning your approach, ensure that you balance the importance of getting everything right, with what is realistic and within your donor’s expectations. As a result, the ask can be a joyous experience for all involved.

Related articles: 

Major Gift Fundraising: Have you earned the right to ask?

Top 10 Donor Stewardship “Rules” to Ensure That Your Fundraising Thrives: Part 2

Part 3: Building a donor stewardship plan – the key elements to success

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