Judging the best conditions and asking properly is one rule. I believe that another part of the ask process requires its own rule. Asking for a major gift requires discipline around a very important moment in the process. That moment is the period of time just after the question. When the moment arrives you should ask the question, then wait, be quiet, and listen carefully to the answer.
NOISY NOT-FOR-PROFIT PROFESSIONALS
It sounds like common sense and good courtesy but there are too many fundraisers and senior non-profit leaders who cannot stop talking, cannot listen, and usually fill up any quiet moment of a conversation with their own voice!
Fundraisers have been known to quip that after the question is asked the person who speaks next loses. Losing is not a useful way to put it, but I trust you see my point? If the asker speaks next (after their own question) then how does the respondent get an answer in? Once you ask, be quiet and wait (very patiently) for the response and listen very carefully to what is said next.
YES, NO, MAYBE, AND MORE
When the respondent finally answers, they hardly ever use just one word (such as yes, no, or maybe).
Usually the answer contains other important information. It could be:
- “Yes, I would love to do that and …”; or,
- “No, I couldn’t give that amount but I was thinking of giving $50,000…” (in which case they are giving but had another figure in mind, which is fine); or,
- “Maybe, but could I first talk further with Susan before I finally agree?” (I could give to this, but I want more information …).
An answer of no could come with different information too:
- “No, not that amount …” (but another amount); or,
- “No, not now …” (but ask again in 6 months and the answer could be different); or,
- “No, not that project …” (I am happy to give but more interested in another project); or,
- “No, not you …” (I could still give to this, but I want someone else to ask…).
An answer of maybe also comes in a few forms:
- Maybe, but first could we discuss … (I am close to giving but have questions to resolve first);
- Maybe, but can I pledge that amount and make payment instalments (The amount is a stretch but I want to do this so are there payment terms that work for all of us?); or,
- Maybe, but could I speak with the CEO please (I could be giving but I want someone else to ask me).
PRACTISE THE PRACTICE
Asking the key question, remaining silent, waiting for the response, listening carefully and then responding thoughtfully is quite a process. It is not as easy as it sounds.
Good fundraising practitioners make time to practise (and practise and practise!) all the scenarios of different responses that follow an ask. Practising is how fundraisers becomes better and also how others (executive leaders, board members, and other donors) can become more successfully involved in asking.
JOB FOR PROFESSIONALS
There is much more to seeking a donation than speaking magic words at the first meeting. Success also remains a matter of cultivating a productive and trusting relationship and putting in the extra work to ensure that the donor’s goals are being met too. Asking is about thorough planning, careful judgement, and disciplined execution. It is a job for measured and prepared professionals, not overpromising and egotistical magicians.