Are we really not asking for money?

There is a pervasive myth around the number one reason major donors don’t give.

Can you guess what it may be? I suspect so:

“Donors don’t give because they have not been asked!”


We, the professional fundraisers, have not asked?

Needless to say, I take issue with this statement. It seems to me that we are indeed professional fundraisers who know not only how to ask, but when to ask! I might go so far as to say it is a professional affront!

But seriously, if that is not the number one reason, what is?

When your prospects aren’t giving, what is the reason? What can you do to ensure a higher success rate?

One of the trends I see amongst donors is the desire not only to witness the impact of their donations, but also to be involved in a very personal way throughout the process. Cultivation and stewardship are of course key to this, but can easily become subscriptive and routine.

Finding ways to go beyond the norm and engage our prospects from the very start of any given project, really listening to their advice, and bringing them in at the planning stage goes a long way to inspiring their interest, their passion, and eventually their philanthropy.

You have probably all seen the case of a prospect who was brought into the design phase of a capital campaign and ultimately became the largest donor to that campaign.

Careful planning and strategic moves management allow us to set up a clear pathway for each prospect. Then, as we deepen our relationships with those prospects and we begin to understand more closely what their motivations might be, we are able to provide what they need.

The well-known adage “Ask for money and you get advice; ask for advice and you get money” definitely applies. It creates a win-win situation – the prospect feels valued and listened to and your institution benefits from the advice and skills offered.

Boards too play an important role in the giving process. Most board members want to be useful, and involving them as volunteer solicitors is a key way to do so, to the benefit of your efforts. Once you have received a board member’s personal gift, encourage that board member to develop as a peer solicitor. Give them clear indications of the role they can play in solicitations and set up peer-to-peer meetings for them. This adds to the personal touch: both for them and the identified prospect. Additionally, of course, this can also give board members the satisfaction of being part of a successful ask! Consider providing workshops or training for volunteer solicitors to ensure that they feel comfortable with the process and fully understand what is expected of them.

Creating an atmosphere where prospects and volunteers feel not only involved but also implicated in the success of any project goes a very long way to ensuring that they will give again and again.

I offer one caveat. On occasion, I have experienced situations where the development professional has ticked all the boxes in informing, engaging, and cultivating their prospect, only to assume that that prospect fully understood what was expected of them. Those solicitors mistakenly believe that they do not have to put the “ask” into words. Never assume – we all know what that makes us!

In my experience, prospects enjoy and look forward to being asked. Verbally asking for a clear, carefully researched, and appropriate number avoids ambiguity.  It also avoids leaving money on the table.

I have full confidence that my peers are indeed asking for gifts. But remember this: in addition to continuing your asks, you must identify ways to creatively engage prospects from the beginning, and then ask them to engage their peers. That will make your asks – which I know you’re all conducting – a lot easier, will result in increased close rates, and, most importantly, will give those who repeat the tired adage about not asking a reason to change their tune.

Jane Narich is a Senior Vice President with Graham-Pelton. Contact her directly via e-mail or by calling 800-608-7955.

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