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Does fundraising training focus too much on the ask?

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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>>Are fundraising tricks and gimmicks worth doing?



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  1. Andrew Olsen February 9, 2018 Reply

    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.

    • Author
      Greg Warner February 9, 2018 Reply

      Thanks for adding your wisdom Andrew!

  2. Sophie Penney, PhD February 9, 2018 Reply

    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 February 12, 2018 Reply

    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.” 🙂

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