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Avoid These Major Missteps When Asking for Major Gifts (Part II)

Resource Center - Foundation

amy eisensteinBy Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE

(This is second part of a two-article series on asking for major gifts. Part one ran in last week’s eWire and can be found here.)

In part one, I talked about the build-up to asking for a major gift, including your general outlook (fighting your fear of asking), being honest about why you’re asking for a meeting and setting up the actual ask.

This article will focus on the actual meeting, including one of the most important questions.

Who Should Ask?

Ideally, two people from your organization will attend the meeting, preferably the executive director and a board member. It could also be the development director. It’s most important that the prospective donor is familiar and comfortable with the people attending meeting.

Fundraising is about relationships, so the person who does the asking should have the strongest relationship with the prospective donor.

In the best case scenario, a board member will ask. This is known as peer-to-peer fundraising. As a volunteer, a board member has no financial stake in the organization. Your board member has (presumably) already invested their time and money and are asking the prospective donor to do the same.

The meeting should be someplace quiet and private. Hold the meeting at the prospective donor’s home or office, or wherever is most convenient and comfortable for them.

The Language of the Ask 

The one question I get asked the most about face-to-face fundraising is, “How do you actually ask?”

So here’s some ask language for you to try. Practice it in the mirror until it feels more comfortable and find the words that work for you.

“Mary, you’ve been such a great supporter of this organization, and we want to thank you again for that.  As you know, the organization needs more funding to accomplish XYZ goals that we’ve been discussing.”

If a board member is asking, add the following:

“I’ve given what I can, and I’m here today to ask you to consider a gift in the range of $10,000 for the after school program.”

Be sure to include a specific amount to support a specific program or service (even if that specific thing is unrestricted operating). You can ask for overall support of the organization if you know your donor is open to that.

Responding to Yes, No and Maybe 

Once you’ve made the ask, it’s time to sit back and wait. Literally.

Be prepared for whatever the response may be. It will be some form of Yes, No or Maybe, and you should be prepared to react right then and there to any of those responses. 

For Anything Other Than Yes…

If the answer is anything but yes, ask open ended questions to keep the conversation going. Questions such as:

  • Do you need any additional information before making a decision?  What sort of information?
  • Tell me more about what you had in mind.

In other words, what was the donor thinking of doing if you asked for the wrong amount or program.

Remember to Thank Them.

Regardless of the answer, be sure to follow up with a thoughtful thank-you note and phone call.  It’s important to thank them for their time and consideration.

Remember, this is a long-term relationship. You should not simply be thinking about this one gift, but also the gift they could make next year and five years from now.

Avoid the Biggest Mistake of All

The biggest mistake you can make is not asking at all.

The best way to raise major gifts is to ask for them, and the quickly approaching fall season is the perfect time of year to do just that.

Now you know what to say, how to phrase your ask, who should do the asking and how to respond to your prospective donor. So go ahead and call your best major gift prospects and ask them for a major gift before year end.

Still nervous?  No problem – Mastering Major Gifts is here.

If you need some additional confidence and know-how to build a successful major gifts program, Mastering Major Gifts is for you. This transformative, step-by-step 7-week training course will help you raise 4, 5, 6, or even 7-figure gifts, and continue raising major gifts for years to come.

Simply say something like, “I’d like to meet with you to discuss how you might support in our organization in a more strategic or impactful way.”

Once you’ve secured a meeting date, time, and place, you’re halfway there.

In part two, we’ll discuss the actual meeting.

If you need some additional confidence and know-how to build a successful major gifts program, Mastering Major Gifts is for you. This transformative, step-by-step 7-week training course will help you raise 4, 5, 6, or even 7-figure gifts, and continue raising major gifts for years to come.  



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