Fundraising Lessons From 'The Great One'
If you get to know me for more than five minutes, you will learn that I relate fundraising and development to sports. There are so many parallels to each entity. So, whenever I hear Wayne Gretzky's famous quote, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” I immediately think of fundraising solicitations.
"The Great One" was on to something. At the end of the day, all fundraisers must raise money. The art and science of our profession demands we use our training, experience and instinct to figure out when to take the shot—asking for a gift—and when to wait for another day. At times, we all have moments of confusion and anxiety over when it's the right time to make an ask.
According to fundraising expert Marc A. Pitman, there are three optimum times to ask for a major gift:
1. Before you meant to ask—You are cultivating a prospect, and the prospect gets so excited they indicate a willingness to give at a certain amount right now. You have a choice to move past the comment or acknowledge it. You must decide, at this fork in the road, where to turn next, especially if the potential donor gives you a lower amount than you had in mind.
2. When you meant to ask—Pitman noted that asking is easiest once you've met a donor prospect and engaged the individual enough to have a feel for the right ask. He advised setting up an appointment to talk about your involvement in a project, making the ask more natural. "When that moment does come, ask for the specific dollar amount and then shut up!" Pitman wrote. "You need to let them process the ask. So just shut up and wait. They'll let you know they're done processing because they'll be the first people to speak."
3. After you meant to ask—Pitman said that chickening out and failing to ask when you originally intended can be awkward, but it's not the end of the world. "Asking after you intended to means setting up another face-to-face meeting—something that seems odd," he wrote. "This is where it starts to feel that you only are interested in the person's money. But it's important to still invite them to consider investing in your cause. So gut it out and get that next appointment."
Writing for Nonprofit Hub, Marc Koenig explained that asking is intimidating, even for experienced fundraisers, and provided seven tips for making the ask. They are:
- "Research your donors to read their minds."
- "Practice, practice, practice—and then practice some more."
- "Never, ever surprise your prospect."
- "Stop being boring (it isn’t worth it)."
- "Ask for advice—you usually end up with money."
- "Your secret weapon is pointed silence."
- Ask for a specific amount (don’t make your donor do any work)."
If you are truly interested in asking for gifts and improving your quantity and quality of asks, be prepared for the solicitation. Become familiar with software tools to obtain data on prospects. DonorSearch, one software provider, advises that fundraisers never attempt to solicit a prospect without first knowing at least the following items:
- Previous donations to your nonprofit
- Past charitable giving
- Political giving
- Nonprofit involvement
- Real estate ownership
- Business affiliations
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) insider stock transactions
- Personal contact information
(According to DonorSearch, past giving is the greatest indicator of future giving.)
We always focus on achieving monetary goals each year, and that is important. But, I contend that number of solicitations is another important metric to consider to enhance fundraising performance. Listen to Wayne Gretzky, and start taking more shots. Make more asks!
The No. 1 reason people don't give? They are not asked. Let’s increase our efforts to give prospects the joy of deeper engagement in our organizations by asking more of them to become donors. In the end, don’t we all want to take more shots—and hit 100 percent of them—each fiscal year?
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.