The Art and Science of the Ask
I was recently invited to sit in on a mock presentation where the real presentation is going to be given to a donor to ask for a sizable major gift.
This organization has been working on this gift for months. At the end of the presentation I was in awe. Not just because the person delivering the presentation and ask was amazing (that was true), but because of the amount of preparation, thought and hard work put together by several departments that came together to make this happen.
So, it got me thinking. How much effort and time do you really put into making a major gift ask to a donor? Here are some things to think about in preparation for the ask that you might find helpful as you review your strategic plan and get ready to talk to your donors.
Before the ask:
- Do you have agreement from management and administration that if you can get funding for a particular program or project, then it is actually going to get done? I know this sounds elementary, but it happens all the time. A donor might want to fund something, but program doesn't really want to deal with it. The donor gives the money and then nothing happens. You want agreement with all involved that this is definitely something everyone in the organization wants.
- Have you worked with program to make sure you have a solid, workable plan with a budget? Again, I know this sounds fundamental, but I've seen rogue MGOs promise all kinds of things to donors in order to get the gift, then go to program to see if they can pull it off. The budget is a very important element. Donors want to see how their gift is going to be used and that you have a long-term funding plan beyond the donor's own gift. You can easily say this project will cost $5 million over three years, but you need to show the proof.
- Do you know the donor? We talk about this with our clients repeatedly in different circumstances, but it's especially critical when you are preparing an ask. How has the donor been cultivated for this gift? Are they going to be blindsided? How positive are you that the amount you are going to ask for is appropriate? The worst thing you can do is having the wrong offer at the wrong price. If you know the donor and you have cultivated them right, the ask will be almost a formality. The donor will be waiting for you.
- Don't forget this is an emotional decision. Yes, you have to have the facts, the plan, the figures and the details, but you absolutely cannot forget the emotional aspect of the ask. If a donor isn't choked up at the end of your ask presentation, then something is wrong. Your donor wants to help create change in the world, and you are offering them a way to do that—that is simply amazing and you need to present it as such.
- Practice, practice, practice. I know: You think you can wing this thing. Don't succumb to that hubris of yours. Practice your ask presentation with your colleagues. Pretend your colleague is the donor and speak directly to her. Have your colleague ask all the potential questions and find holes in your presentation to make sure you anticipate those in the actual presentation. Make sure you have all your facts and figures right. Make sure the plan is clear. Make sure you have a good story and that the emotional impact is there. Then, two days later, come back and do it again. You want to practice this to the point that it feels natural.
- Relax. On the day of the ask make sure you have all your materials and that everyone is clear on their role, and then sit down with the donor, relax and show them how they can change the world. If you have done all your work, you will be fine.
If you can prepare with these six things in mind, your ask will be amazing and your donor will feel honored, known and cared for. Now, go on and get ready for that next amazing ask. Go help change the world.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.