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Preparing an Airtight Script for the Major-Gift Ask

(June 2, 2009) While board members and volunteers often shy away from using a script for making “the ask,” it is pivotal that they structure their ask ahead of time and come ready to make a solid case, says veteran fundraiser and consultant Laura Fredricks.

A script that covers all key points of the ask, and blocks out appropriate time for each, means the ask will stay on track, Fredricks says. That doesn’t mean it has to be memorized word-for-word or recited as a monologue. It just means all the important aspects of an ask will be covered, covered completely, and in a comfortable order for the prospective donor. Don’t put someone up to bat for your organization empty handed. They will most likely also come back empty handed—and ask, “Why didn’t you prepare me for that response?!”

Fredricks, who is author of The Ask: How to Ask Anyone for Any Amount for Any Purpose, likens the script for a major gift ask to a road map. There are several important components to include before you get to your destination.

First, set a time frame for the ask. Don’t spend 20 minutes of a 30 minute meeting catching up and sharing stories. That said, don’t simply shake hands and make the ask. Fredricks says, as a general rule, the ask should not take more than 25 minutes total. Start with a five minute warm-up period. Break the ice by following up on something the donor mentioned in your last meeting. Ask about children or grandchildren. Here already you need to be prepared—take detailed notes or you simply won’t remember your donor’s particular interests, family concerns, etc.

After the five minute warm-up period should come the ask. Fredricks outlines five essential steps for the ask. The ask should take six minutes.

Essential Components of the Ask

  1. Make a compelling case for the organization and the need for support
  2. Use transitional statements that specifically reference the prospect’s interest, or prior support, or both
  3. Ask for a specific amount and for a specific purpose
  4. Detail the benefits of the gift
  5. Remain silent

Certainly the first step is to state your case for support. Why give to you? And why now? What is the urgency? The script will contain a solid, clear and concise way of stating need. As a transitional statement, include in the script a way to tie the donor personally to the organization’s mission and current need. A good transition may be as follows:

“Leslie, your support for our mentoring program has put us on the map as the model for these community programs. We have the chance to take the program to a national level that is exciting and equally challenging. Let me take a few minutes to share with you what needs to be done to make that dream come true.”

After the transition, ask for a specific amount of money for a specific purpose. This is extremely important, Fredricks says. Don’t ask a donor to guess what is an appropriate amount. Plus, don’t keep them in the dark about who the money will help and how. Inspire them to make a difference with a particular program or project. If you are asking for an unrestricted gift, explain the benefits of such a gift. Be straightforward.

Next is your chance to cover the great things that will happen because of the gift. You’ve already stated your need, now talk about positive things that will happen once the gift is made—for the people the organization serves  and for the donor, too.

The ask concludes with the fundraiser, board member or volunteer simply being silent. You have said your piece. Let the donor speak.  This may be the hardest part of all, and reiterates the need for a script, Fredricks says. You don’t want to second guess the prospect’s reaction. Make it clear in the script to pause—and listen, listen, listen!

The Donor’s Turn to Speak

Continuing on the overall road map, step four is to give ten minutes, the largest block of time in the script, to the donor for his or her reaction, questions, feedback and overall response. Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal reactions. Listen intently and offer all the time he or she needs state questions and concerns fully. Remember, making a major gift is no easy or quick decision.

Finally, in four minutes, thank the prospect for his or her time as well as for listening to you. Wrap up with a final statement of the gift opportunity and its benefits and schedule a next meeting for follow-up. If there are questions you could not answer, let the donor know when you will get back to them.

These are some essential elements of an ask, and therefore are elements that should be clearly scripted for the person or persons making the critical major-gift ask. Fredricks lays out these and other steps more fully in her book, The Ask: How to Ask Anyone for Any Amount for Any Purpose, on sale now in the AFP bookstore.

Laura Fredricks, JD, LLC, is a consultant, author and motivational speaker for business and nonprofits internationally. Her new book, The Ask: How to Ask for What You Need and Deserve—for Your Cause, for Your Passion, and for You! will be published January 2010 by Jossey-Bass.

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