The Major Gift Ask Secret to Success
Every contribution is important, of course, but major gifts are “stop-and-think gifts,” according to fundraising legend Bill Sturtevant. They’re different, for example, from those that might result from a direct mail piece or made as a reciprocal gesture to a friend.
Most donors need to be fully invested in the outcomes that their major gifts will produce and believe in the organization’s ability to fulfill these.
Books have been written on the ask. Seminars and presentations dissect every minute of that visit when you ask for a donor to change and save lives. And yes, there are sound principles around how to phrase an ask and how to respond to an objection.
But the secret to a successful ask lies in the relationship-building, cultivation and engagement that come before it.
The real work in making a major- gift ask comes long before the ask itself. The best asks don’t come as a surprise; the reason for the visit is not a secret. Ideally, you have had repeated conversations and other communication with the prospective donor (or donors–be sure to involve all the decision-makers). While you should be ready to provide a progress report or respond to a question raised in the last conversation, you should not have to explain a project in its entirety.
In the best asks, the donor already has said, or signaled, “How can I help?” So, you are in the natural position to ask the donor if it would be appropriate for you to share a proposal—an invitation to help.
Then, yes, try to follow best practices about the ask (we prefer to use the same wording that John Rockefeller used most successfully as he shared in his talk, “The Technique of Soliciting Funds.”)
“Another suggestion I like to have made to me by a solicitor is how much it is hoped I will give. Of course, such a suggestion can be made in a way that might be most annoying. I do not like to have anyone tell me what it is my duty to give. There is just one man who is going to decide that question . . . who has the responsibility of deciding it . . . and that is myself.”
“But I do like a man to say to me, ‘We are trying to raise $4 million and are hoping you may be desirous of giving blank dollars. If you see your way clear to do so, it will be an enormous help and encouragement. You may have it in your mind to give more; if so, we shall be glad. On the other hand, you may feel you cannot give as much, in view of other responsibilities. If that is the case, we shall understand. Whatever you give after thinking the matter over carefully in the light of the need, your other obligations and your desire to do your full share as a citizen, will be gratefully received and deeply appreciated.’ When you talk to a man like that he is glad to meet you again and will not take the other elevator when he sees you in the corridor, because you backed him to the wall and forced him to give.”
With this in mind, here are some additional steps to observe:
- Be sure to be at an appropriate location (their home or business or a private room—not a table in a public setting).
- Be sure that you have the right people there.
- Do your homework or pre-test what the right giving level might be.
- Share your goal and, if appropriate, benchmarks of what other donors are doing or the impact they may make in influencing others.
- Make the ask, and be silent. Let them digest your request.
- Most importantly, be sure that the ask is not a surprise to the donor and that they are already familiar with the concept you are suggesting.
Major gift fundraising is an opportunity to be a passionate ambassador and invite your prospective donors to change the world and save lives! What noble and exciting work!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.