The permission to ask ask

August 25, 2015

If I had a pound for every fundraiser who tells me their CEO (or Vice Chancellor, or Chair of the board) doesn’t want to ask… well, I’d have a pretty full purse!  What’s behind this?  Fear, probably.  And the problem is: asking isn’t an option.  If you want to raise serious funds from the seriously rich, your CEO needs to get comfortable and get asking.

I think a great solution is ensuring, in so far as possible, that the answer to their brave ask will be ‘yes’ (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).  What if you could line up happy donors, ready to be asked, and give your CEO great insight into how to ask, what the hooks are, how much to ask for, and feel really confident that the donor is ready and happy to have this conversation?  Read on…

I once worked with a leader of an organisation who only wanted to ask for money if the answer was going to be yes.  Nice work if you can get it.  Wouldn’t we all like that? But actually, his wish to only be involved in success created a creative opportunity for the team; we created the ‘permission to ask ask’.  This means that you, the donkey-work fundraiser, get to have a conversation with the donor along these lines…

‘My CEO/ the boss/ the guy you’ve met and got to know and hold in high esteem is incredibly driven to see this project succeed.  We’re now reaching a critical phase, and we need to see some of the founding donations to the project come through.  He’s minded to ask a very small number of senior people who we’ve got to know well to support us at this early stage.  He needs our closest friends to come together and do something extraordinary.  Would you be happy to talk with him about this?  Could you see yourself being one of those people?’ 


If yes:

‘Great, THANK YOU. He will be delighted to talk with you about it.  If he were to ask you for £XXX,XXX, would that be a comfortable conversation?’ – Get your CEO ready; this guy is ready to go!

If no:

‘What might need to happen to get to that stage?’ – Stand down the CEO; you’ve got some more work to do.

Now the advantages of this approach are plentiful.  Firstly, you, the experienced and professional fundraiser, can phrase this pre-ask in the right way. You can talk about all the things you know motivate the donor and how this project will match those needs.  Because you are a fundraiser, you’ll be bold and ask for a specific stretching amount, you’ll know to throw in the names of peers who have already committed, and you’ll know what recognition will be possible.  You’ve done this plenty of times, so you’re well placed.  You’ll also be listening like crazy and making notes as soon as you leave the discussion, so that when briefing your CEO, you can reflect the sentiments (even the particular words) the prospect used so that the CEO can bring these into his conversation.   You’ve done your bit as the steward; you’ve made your prospect and CEO comfortable and lined up this gift.  I hope you get at least some of the credit!

Best of luck. Let me know how you get on.

– Tess Nixon, Associate

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