Does fundraising training focus too much on the ask?

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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.

Often I find that major gift (and legacy gift) fundraising education, training, and advice places too much emphasis on ‘the ask’.
Yet, in many ways, the ask is the smallest part of most fundraiser’s jobs. For instance, I bet most of your time is probably spent doing so much besides asking. And, frankly, I think most of the decision has already been made by your donors well before you pop the question. So shouldn’t most education, training and advice focus on the rest of the process instead?
Think of it this way.
When you first met your significant other, were you thinking mostly about how you’d ask them to get married? Of course not. Real relationships don’t work that way.
Instead, you probably focused heavily on building a relationship. I bet you first focused on inviting them to engage with you so both of you could determine if there was a fit. Then, as the relationship grew and both of you realized you had things in common (and could exchange value with one another in ways that benefited both of you), you began to feel good and satisfied. Then, only later did you decide to think about how you were going to pop the question, right?
Wouldn’t you have felt silly focusing on how you were going to pop the question all the while?
Of course, that was because you knew that the real hard work had to happen before that point. Then, popping the question became the next natural stage in the organic nature of the relationship. Right?
Fundraising works the same way.
Therefore, I think most of your time (and training) should be focused on the relationship-building parts of the process.  It should focus on exploration and discovery, questions and answers… not asking. But how much time have you invested in testing which questions to ask, why, how and when?
If you’ve spent more time training on the ask, I think you might want to reconsider.
What do you think?

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8 responses to “Does fundraising training focus too much on the ask?”

  1. Andrew Olsen says:

    You’re right. The ask is a necessary and critical element of success, but if done right, it should be a very small part of the overall relationship and process.

  2. This is one reason why Penn State’s online courses in our Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership focus on everything from what donors want to how they think to how to build relationships to stewardship. Students learn about the cycle of giving, of which the ask is only one portion.
    I would concur that if a relationship is properly cultivated and gifts appropriately stewarded that donors are often ready for an ask. In fact I have had some donors ask us before we asked them. Why? Because they became so excited and invested in the success of students who might receive scholarship or in providing relief to a person who would benefit from the healing waters of a therapy pool.

  3. Claire Axelrad says:

    Yes! When I work with boards around “how to” I focus on inspiring them and reframing the ask as storytelling. It’s much easier to tell a story and share our passion than to do something everyone considers a “necessary evil.” 🙂

  4. Jenny says:

    I agree that the ask is only a small portion of a major donor relationship. However I think this idea leads most people to believe that they have to spend months/years cultivating a relationship with someone BEFORE they can ask, which goes directly against what I’ve personally experienced. When an ask is done right, it can happen without a relationship, but from there it’s important to cultivate the relationship if you want longevity in the giving relationship.

    • Greg Warner says:

      Thanks for commenting Jenny.
      I’m not sure why you felt this concept leads people to believe they have to spend months/years cultivating relationships. That’s not what the article is about. Rather, it’s about the fact that lots of training focusses too much on the ask (in my opinion) and not enough on cultivation.
      If you’ve had a lot of success asking first before building a relationship and you believe that focusing more training on cultivation is not worthwhile, I’d be interested to know why. I have to admit, I’m surprised that’s how you raise money most of the time. I’d be interested in hearing how you do ‘an ask done right’ ….without a relationship. And, how successful is that kind of ask compared to ones made after a relationship has been built. I’d also be interested in seeing any metrics or studies you’ve seen on this.

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