Do you really have to ask for a gift?

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

At MarketSmart, we don’t close sales and we don’t close deals. 
Rather, the deals close themselves because our clients sell themselves after we engage them properly.
Furthermore, we don’t have sales people and we don’t pay anyone a commission.
Instead, we have Solutionists. Solutionists listen and help prospects (and clients) understand how our products and services can help solve their problems and reduce their “pains”. Our Solutionists help them decide whether or not they should buy from us. There’s no pressure— ever.
But we DO, however, provide our prospects and clients with options. We DO show them a menu of proposed solutions. We DO offer them opportunities to make a decision. We DO ask them when they think they will make a decision. We DO follow-up with them based on their requests. We DO (sometimes) include a deadline to help provide them with a sense of urgency. And, we do, sometimes, straight-up ask for the order.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because I think the days are over when a salesperson nervously looked a prospect in the eye, asked for the order, pressured and cajoled a bit, and then closed the deal.
Yes, sometimes our Solutionists come out and just ask. But most of our clients don’t need that final nudge. Most of them close their own deals for us.
So what about fundraising? What about asking for donations? Do you really have to “make an ask” these days?
When I say no to a fundraiser’s request, it’s usually because I’m not ready. I haven’t been properly educated, informed or counseled. Tweet This Their timing is usually way off and I feel they should have a sense of that. If they are true professionals, I tend to feel that they should know better.
Now, having said that…
I can see “making an ask” when you need a lead gift for a capital campaign. Of course by then you’ve probably already built a solid relationship with a very wealthy person who believes in your mission. Someone that has confidence in your organization’s leadership and staff.
Sure. Go ahead. Make that ask! It will make sense to that supporter.
But for the average major donor who gave $10,000 last year, do you really have to make an ask?
Shouldn’t you simply engage and involve them all year long in ways that help them understand the problem(s) enough so they will ask themselves?  And, when you visit them, shouldn’t you simply let them know that you want to help them navigate through some solutions they might want to consider supporting? Shouldn’t they, in fact, sometimes be offered the opportunity to maneuver through those solutions on their own (conveniently online in the privacy of their own homes)?
What I’m saying is this:
I think if you do everything right online and offline…
If you thank your supporters, show them that you appreciate them, recognize them, show them what you did with the money, and provide them with offers to engage and involve themselves more deeply with your mission, won’t many of them go get their checkbooks on their own and trip over themselves to give you a check?
I think, then, they’ll also cry tears of joy while thanking you profusely for giving them the opportunity to help make the world a better place.
So you too, like our Solutionists, should provide your supporters with options. You should show them a menu of proposed solutions. You should offer them opportunities to make a decision. You should ask them when they think they will make a decision. You should follow-up with them based on their requests. You should consider including a deadline to help provide them with a sense of urgency. And, sometimes, you should straight-up ask for the gift.
After all, fundraisers are facilitators.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and recognize that some supporters despise the word “fundraiser” as much as the word “salesperson.” Tweet This Unfortunately, both words have been tainted because of unscrupulous practitioners in fundraising and sales who preceded all of us.
Let’s recognize that your supporters don’t want to be persuaded, pushed or pressured. No! They want to be engaged and involved. They want to collaborate with you. They want to participate. And, quite often, they can do all of that online at a time and place of their choosing. So they can feel good when they want to feel good— period! After all, that IS why people give… to feel good!
And, that’s precisely why coercion, cajolery, and coaxing won’t work. Those approaches simply make people feel bad.
Supporters want you to facilitate the process— not force it.
Finally, isn’t “making an ask” nerve-racking?
Well, it shouldn’t be. And it won’t cause so much anxiety for both sides if the groundwork has been laid. If the relationship is solid. If the supporter has belief in the mission. If they have a close personal connection. If they have been involved. If they feel appreciated. If they have confidence in the leadership team and staff.
So why not let the online experience help you do all that? Why not let it support what you do just as the Air Force supports the boots on the ground?
So tell me, please, do you really always have to ask for a gift?

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>> 6 Best Practices for Delivering Progress Reports
>> The 10 Commandments of Engagement Fundraising
>> 8 Ways to Ask for a Donation Without Actually Asking

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6 responses to “Do you really have to ask for a gift?”

  1. We Planned Giving Officers regularly contend with administrators who attempt to measure our success with metrics designed for Major Gift Officers. One of those metrics is counting “Proposals.” I regularly need to explain that I do not submit proposals. I have ongoing discussions.
    My experience helping to secure charitable gifts totaling many tens of millions of dollars has never included making “the ask.” I have found that if the prospect has a passion for the mission, all I have to do is properly explain the need. When the time is right, they will offer to help solve the need to the best of their ability.

  2. Karen says:

    “Fundraisers are facilitators.” Word up. Love the way you think, Greg.

  3. Greg,
    Asking is still necessary to landing many larger gifts– even for programs. There are many people who make the assumption that if you don’t ask for the gift, you must not need it very much.
    Without the ask, a generous donor intending to make a gift, will make a guess on what is needed. Many times the guess is lower than the amount needed. When all the while the caring and passionate donor may have gladly stretched his/her generosity to meet the need if only asked.
    But even more important than this, I believe that there is something very special that happens to a relationship when asking for help is part of the dialogue. It is like the transaction is incomplete without the ask. To the donor, the ask is a way for building trust. If a gift officer asks for a large gift, that ask comes with the responsibility that if the gift is given, the money will be used as described in the request.
    If a donor makes an unsolicited gift of $10,000, and repeats the gift every year for five years, then suddenly stops giving to the nonprofit in year six? Because asking had not been a tradition in the relationship with the donor, only receiving, it makes the ask to reactivate the donor much more challenging, and the gift unlikely.
    Sure, with the advent and continued morphing of electronic media and online transacting, it makes it much easier and quicker for a donor to be moved by a call to action, then immediately respond with a generous gift. I love it when that happens! But I hate it when I consider all of the large gifts that may be missed, because gift officers didn’t care enough to ask for them.

  4. One last comment about the idea of no longer having to ask for the gift…
    As a gift officer ask the question, “Will my chances of getting the gift be diminished if I ask for it?” and…
    “Is there a chance I may not get the gift if I do not ask for it?”
    I think you will agree that the answers to these questions are “No” and “Yes” respectively.

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks Kevin. Good stuff!
      The trick in asking is timing. Most nonprofit staff find it unnatural and uncomfortable to ‘ask’ because they are (correctly) sensing that the timing is off. That’s because organizational leaders (including board members) push them to solicit rather than engage, serve and facilitate.
      My article’s headline was, of course, designed to attract attention. But the meat of the post is certainly not about ‘not asking’. It’s about providing offers that deliver value to the donor at times that make sense for everyone involved.

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