Do You Ask on the First Date?
Hi, Marc …
As the CEO of my nonprofit, I don’t like asking donors for a gift the first time I meet with them. I want to show them I respect them and am more interested in them than in their gift. But I’m finding it hard for my team to get me a second appointment. So the team is encouraging me to ask for a gift in the first meeting. For years, I’ve prided myself on not “asking on the first date.” I don’t want to come across as “pushy.” But our organization needs the revenue from donors. And having my team try to chase down prospects for a second meeting seems like a waste of resources. What do you suggest?
— Concerned CEO
Dear Concerned CEO,
Great question! Asking “on the first date” can feel awkward. We hear so much about needing to be “donor-centered” that coming right out and making an ask does feel pushy. Especially when you’re a new CEO. Here are two different ways to answer your question:
Is it the prospect’s first date?
In my experience, not “asking on the first date” is really more about the CEO or solicitor than about the donor. It’s usually a mask to hide his or her own fear of asking. If you were truly putting the donor in the center, you’d see your “first” meeting in a whole new perspective.
For the donor, this may indeed be the first meeting with you as CEO. But it might not be his or her first “date” with your nonprofit. For a prospect to merit your time, your team has probably been working with the prospect or donor for a while. And it’s likely that the donor has given gifts over time.
So in reality, these “new” prospects or donors feel they already have a relationship with your nonprofit. You are a new face, but they see your meeting as one more meeting with the organization.
Here’s another thing to consider: Many major donors know the value of the CEO’s time. So they come to the meeting expecting the CEO to ask them. I’ve heard more stories of prospects and donors who meet with the CEO getting annoyed when they’re not asked! We certainly don’t want to annoy donors!
Respectful asking even if it is the first date
Have you ever been at a meeting with a prospect for the very first time — first time for both the prospect and you — and you learn about something he or she is extremely passionate about? I have. And sometimes that passion intersects with an aspect of your program, something that your organization is doing really well.
What do you do? I’ve found honesty to be a great fundraising strategy! You could say something like,“Wow. I can see you’re passionate about [whatever the prospect is passionate about]. I didn’t come here to ask you to invest this time … but could I tell you about how we are addressing the specific area? Or would it be better for me to follow up in a couple weeks?”
Let me unpack that response for you.
1. You’re listening to the prospect. The only reason you’re even responding is that you’ve heard what the prospect said he or she cared about.
2. You’re being honest. You really didn’t come to ask for money this time. I love how the words “this time” honestly reminds the prospect that as nice as it is to get together, there is going to be a solicitation at some point. I actually smile when I say “this time.”
3. You’re testing the prospect’s openness to an ask. Asking permission can be powerful. If the prospect allows it, you can go right into an ask and have the confidence of knowing that he or she has agreed to it. If the prospect tells you now isn’t a good time, you’ve just set the agenda for the next interaction. And you’ve created an agreed upon reason to follow up. When setting up that appointment, you can say, “When we last talked, you asked me to tell you about what we’re doing in [the area the prospect is passionate about].”
CEOs and fundraisers need to fundraise
Your nonprofit needs you to have the courage to fundraise. I’m surprised how often I need to remind fundraisers that their job is to raise funds. That is true for CEOs and executive directors too. Here’s hoping these two approaches will help you ask without fear and see your mission fully funded!
— To your fundraising success, Marc
Marc Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!” and founder of FundraisingCoach.com and the weekly e-mail service “Fundraising Kick.” He is also a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @marcapitman