Making the Ask: Just Pull the Trigger!
Like most of us, I do not have a great deal of free time in my life. When I find the time for freedom, I love to read other books, articles, blogs and communication by my peers and colleagues. Whether you are 22 or 72 with nonprofit experience, you have something to share with others. This profession is so dynamic, you better stay on top of what others think. When I read something that sticks, I immediately think of prior situations where I applied or didn’t apply methods for success.
At this time of year I find myself completing a fiscal year while preparing for a new one. It is all about metrics in this business. I get frustrated when hard work and preparation doesn’t totally equate to results. This is due in part to the state and maturity of your fundraising program. In this specific instance I am talking about major gifts and face-to-face interactions.
I recently read an article by Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority, titled “3 Lessons Nonprofit Fundraisers Can Learn from Political Fundraisers.” Joe notes in lesson one that a “bundler” is someone who has the ability to raise a significant amount of funds from his or her network. Lesson two states that fundraising is everyone’s job. And my favorite, lesson three, is for professionals that build relationships but don’t take all day in doing so. (Which means there is a time for asking for a gift by pulling the trigger!)
I love reviewing Indiana University’s major gift process of metrics and accountability. Each major gift officer must have a portfolio and be accountable for moving that portfolio. When I meet someone with Indiana University experience, I assume they are properly trained to close gifts and move prospects. In my experience over time, I unfortunately have hired several “experienced” major gift officers that just couldn’t pull the trigger.
I worked with one individual who was the best relationship person I had ever seen. He was young, hungry and teachable—or so I thought. He knew the wealth in town and interacted easily with wealthy people. I attended an event where a multimillionaire was honored. Several slides on the stage featured the philanthropist with my young colleague. He was by far the youngest member in the slide. I developed a portfolio and sent him for fundraising training. I found out the hard way that he loved to meet and interact with people, but could not close a major gift. The only way he could engage in the process of asking for something was when it benefited him personally. He was the king of quid pro quo. He soon moved out of the fundraising profession.
I worked with another colleague who had the resume and skills for major gift success. He had worked at several universities. He was well-educated and trained. He was an excellent speaker and educator. He understood the case for support and priorities. He knew exactly what was to be sold. That said, when push came to shove, he could build a relationship, but couldn’t pull the trigger. I worked with another colleague with an excellent personality and wonderful skillset on paper. He knew what to say and was great in a group setting, but could not interact 1:1 with others. It was a strange situation. And my list goes on and on. Major gift people that can consistently pull triggers and successfully close gifts are hard to find. If you have one in your shop, keep them!
When should you pull a trigger by making an ask? This assumes you have done your homework and research on these prospects as to capacity, involvement, history, other relationships, etc. Some examples:
- When volunteers, board, etc. that work with you feel the prospect is ready to be asked.
- When the amount asked is at a low level leading to a larger ask.
- When the prospect gives you an indication to go ahead and ask.
- When there is a prior history of giving and it is time to give again.
- When it is a fundraising board and they are making the lead gifts.
- Based upon experience, timing and gut when to ask for a gift.
- When you are clear as to the decision maker on an ask (husband or wife).
- When you make a gift yourself and you are asking someone of equal donation amount.
- When the relationship is strong and the move is right.
- When the time period is right through proper cultivation.
The No. 1 reason people do not give is they are not asked. Other nonprofits are asking your prospects for a gift as we speak. When are you going to join the party and just pull the trigger?
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.