Does Ask, Ask, and Ask Again Really Work?

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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.

Doing the same thing wrong over and over doesn’t improve results.
I noticed a comment on a LinkedIn post recently that said, “Ask, ask, and ask again. All the rest is commentary.”

Here was my response:
“I think I have to respectfully disagree.

Asking at the wrong time only angers major donors. Asking over and over angers donors. Asking without providing value angers donors.

I don’t believe that major gift fundraising works to get results the same way pounding a hammer against a nail does to get it into a piece of wood. I get “asked, asked, asked” all the time and I don’t give. But the people who invest the time to get to know me, build a relationship with me and match what their organization does with how I want to find meaning in my life… they get my money every time.”

Who do you think is right? Me or him?

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>>Is your donor “endangered”?
>>Why people won’t give you money

8 responses to “Does Ask, Ask, and Ask Again Really Work?”

  1. Christopher Doyle says:

    You hit the nail on the head! You are right. And “right” is the key word. The right ask, at the right time, for the right amount, for the right project by the right person. But most agencies just want to hammer donors with mailing after mailing. The common response is, “well they all make money, don’t they”. Which of course is the wrong answer to the wrong question. Yes, direct mail donors need and want direct mail. But ask after ask just upsets many of those donors and eventually they vote no by not giving any more. The answer by most is: we have an attrition problem so let’s send them more mail so we don’t lose them! But that hurts rather than helps. Also, a healthy mix of “asks” and “reporting back” is the most beneficial way to communicate with donors and supporters.

  2. Dave Bonfilio says:

    I agree and disagree – you used the word “relationship” in your answer. That is the key word. How can I make an ask without knowing the prospect and why they might be interested. So I agree.
    Here is where I disagree. Too many folks in development walk away from a prospect when they get a “no”. Experienced professionals know that “no” can mean a number of things – timing, wrong project and, maybe, wrong organization. Experienced folks take the time to build that relationship and understand the prospect, but will ask again.

  3. Alison Keys says:

    Yes, any time you do not respect your donor is when you lose them. If you use the ask, ask, ask again formula just remember that your donor may not actually take the time to tell you they are displeased with your methods. Only when you get on the phone with donors, do you find out how they are feeling about you. Then you clearly see how you’re doing.

  4. Sheila Hard says:

    In a way, I think it’s apples and oranges. Let’s envision a continuum with impersonal, mass solicitations (i.e., direct mail and e-mail) at one end and major donor relationships at the other.

    I suspect that where things start to go sour is when the folks responsible for direct mail/e-mail aren’t well integrated into the overall fundraising organization. This may have to do partly with their metrics, which may focus on just a few items, such as how many dollars did an effort bring in? What was the ROI? How many donors were acquired? What was the retention rate? It may also have to do with reporting lines. I suspect that the gulf between treating donors as an ATM and having a relationship with them is greatest when the direct mail is out-sourced.

    Mass solicitations do not lend themselves to being relational, except insofar as a donor responds. That response can simply take the form of a pattern of gifts (or not giving), or it can be information that is — or should be — golden. Unfortunately, my experience has been more negative than positive. I will share three examples.

    The first was a telephone solicitation where I declined the solicitation because I had given my annual gift a few months previously. I did, however, volunteer a reaffirmation that the organization was in my will. The call came from an external vendor — one whose name would instantly be recognized. When the caller realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get an immediate gift, he seemed to lose all interest in the conversation. I don’t know whether the information was ever passed along, but I never heard anything from the organization.

    On another occasion (different organization), I received a solicitation inviting me to increase my giving so I could belong to some elite circle for another. The solicitation included a stamped envelope. I don’t know whether it was out-sourced or generated in-house. I wrote back to decline because of a change in my financial circumstances, but I re-affirmed that they were in my will. Every month, like clockwork, I got the same solicitation, with the stamped envelope, and every month I wrote back to tell them that the best current gift I could give them was to let them know not to waste resources soliciting me. But the solicitations kept coming! Clearly, someone or some thing had decided I should be in this circle. After a few months, I reached out one of their planned giving officers. He had visited with me a few years previously to thank me for my gift. I explained the problem and told him that while I wasn’t going to take them out of my will because of this, there might be donors who could be alienated. (I was later told that the result was a high-level discussion and ultimately a re-organization.)

    A third example concerns a charity that was soliciting me too often. I asked to receive fewer solicitations, and I was given a link and told I could select the mailing I wanted to receive. Following the link, I was sent to a menu that clearly seemed to have been posted in error; it had special codes for mailing that would only make sense to an employee, and many of the codes did not appear to be donor-related. There appeared to be about three dozen entries. I re-contacted them to ask if this list were a mistake; I was told it was not. I finally sent a screen shot and encouraged the young woman to ask further, and she finally came back and thanked me, telling me it had been a mistake. But the revised page wasn’t much better. Meanwhile, I should explain that this organization had several subordinate affiliates. I was giving to one of the subordinates and all the others wanted their “crack” at me. I finally gave up and completely unsubscribed from all mailings, which was unfortunate because I really liked getting news.

    Mass solicitation may by its nature have to be impersonal when it goes out, and I don’t think we can blame it for being what it is. However, ultimately it should be subservient to building the relationship, which doesn’t happen when responses are ignored.

  5. David Barker says:

    If I get more than one ask in a year, I contact the charity and ask them to remove me from their marketing lists.
    So, I’m with you, Greg.

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