Major Gift Asks – Putting Them In Perspective is Jim Eskin’s take on inviting major donors to give big gifts while meeting face-to-face (or screen-to-screen).
It’s widely accepted that too many professional and volunteer non-profit leaders, even those passionate about their respective causes, are terrified at the thought of asking someone they know for a gift of time or money.
It doesn’t and shouldn’t be this way. Like most other skilled activities doing it once or twice is the best way to overcome the fear.
Excellence in most professions is expedited by the time-tested stratagem of learning by doing. This is a theory of education expounded by American philosopher John Dewey. It emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning, meaning students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn.
I will make the case that in no profession or discipline does it carry as much weight as in fundraising, especially the high-value activity of personal solicitation of major gifts.
Why are so many people — including non-profit leaders who are virtually fearless in everything else they need to do in their lives — so terrified of asking for a gift for a favorite non-profit or cause? One big reason is that too many have never experienced a charitable solicitation for themselves.
At best, they are only familiar with getting gifts, not asking for them. There is a huge difference between the two. In the passive act of getting a gift, the donor determines the purpose, timing and amount. When the gift is intentionally and strategically solicited, the non-profit has the opportunity to influence the purpose, timing and amount.
To put it bluntly, most non-profit leaders who are scared of asking for gifts are frightened of entering unknown territory.
As a fundraising trainer/consultant I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with professional and volunteer non-profit leaders from organizations of all sizes who represent a wide variety of missions. Soliciting gifts is both an art and science. The better you know the science, the more artful you can be in its application.
In his blockbuster book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the “10,000-hour rule.” As he explains it, the rule goes like this: It takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials, like being able to play the cello as well as Yo-Yo Ma, or land a rover on Mars.
While a fundraiser doesn’t necessarily need to meet that standard, there is no substitute for training, rehearsing, practicing, observing, and actually doing it yourself.
Major Gift Asks – Putting Them In Perspective
Let me offer 10 big ideas when asking face-to-face (or screen-to -screen)!
- Obtaining a gift requires a lot more than a masterful solicitation. The so-called “ask” is only one component of a cogent process culminating in the donor reaching a favorable decision. First and foremost, the donor needs to know, like and trust the non-profit. There must be strong alignment between the donor’s values, interests and priorities and the mission of the organization. Remember: Donors, even the wealthiest of them, need to make difficult decisions on the allocation of finite resources. They are not choosing between the good and the bad, but between the good and the good.
- A robust cultivation phase must be conducted to establish personal and emotional bonds between the donor prospect and the non-profit. This is highlighted by site visits, tours and intimate meetings with CEOs, Executive Directors, Board Chairs and other leaders. Typically, the larger the request, the longer and more intensive the cultivation phase must be.
- Most people think that successful fundraisers must be blessed with silver tongues and the power of persuasion. While certainly fundraisers must be competent at both oral and written communication, being a skilled, active listener is actually more essential. One of the most respected fundraising authorities, Laura Fredricks, the Expert on THE ASK, maintains that during a productive meeting the donor should be speaking 75% of the time, and the solicitor 25%. That means the solicitor must skillfully and effectively make every minute they are talking count and guide the conversation.
- Fundraising is guided by principles, strategies and best practices. There is a vast array of books, conferences, webinars, coaching and other learning vehicles that are well worth the investment of time and money in them.
- Going into a major gift solicitation unprepared and winging it is an invitation for disaster. Winners know the value of researching the individuals, companies and foundations they are going to ask for support. And just as critically, they rehearse and practice the solicitation. This doesn’t mean following a word-for-word script, but you must establish who is going to ask, when the ask will be made, and be prepared for questions. You likely have prepared a superb proposal. But no matter how wonderful it is, don’t let it get in the way of eyeball-to-eyeball contact. Present it at the end of the meeting and let it speak for you when you are no longer there.
- These are absolutes: Asking for a specific amount for a specific purpose, and then remain silent until the donor prospect responds. Too many gifts are reduced by nervous solicitors who confuse silence with an objection to the amount.
- I’m a strong proponent of putting the ask on the table fairly early in the meeting (during the first 10 to 15 minutes) to allow sufficient time to respond to questions and concerns that may arise.
- “No” doesn’t necessarily mean “no way.” It can imply not for this project, not at this time, or not for that amount. Your active listening should help you reveal what it really means.
- I am also a strong proponent of getting board members and other non-profit leaders who haven’t made solicitations themselves to accompany non-profit representatives who are comfortable and confident in making asks. This has to be one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways to develop successful fundraisers.
- Finally, everyone needs to appreciate that it’s not the end of the world if the solicitation doesn’t result in getting the precious gifts of time and money. Just like a baseball player who gets a hit one out of every three times at the plate, a fundraiser who brings home gifts from one out of every three solicitations belongs in a Fundraising Hall of Fame. Hearing “no” is all part of the fundraising business. This is for sure: The more you ask, the more you are going to receive.
To sum up, successful fundraisers do not have superpowers. They are not a special breed who can handle rejection. Rather they are like the millions of men and women who believe deeply in the missions of their non-profits, and recognize that when they are asking, it is for something larger than themselves. They know they are giving the donor prospect an opportunity to feel great by doing something tangible to improve the world and make life better for others.
Jim Eskin’s leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. During his career, he established records for gifts from individuals at three South Texas institutions of higher learning. He enjoys training non-profit boards on fundraising best practices and overcoming the fear of asking for gifts. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his 150 fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here.
Major Gift Asks – Putting Them In Perspective was first posted at MajorGiftsRampUp.com
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