Use of 'Ask' Versus 'Results' Language in Major Gifts
All of us in major gifts know that there are different stages in the major-gift process. Many brilliant major-gift people have written about it. Words like identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship come to mind as descriptors of some big stages or phases of major gifts.
But we often encounter some confusion in major-gift officer (MGO) communication to donors around the use of “ask” language versus “results” or “reporting back” language.
In some regards, the very nature of these two languages can be polar opposite.
“Ask” language and messaging has several key characteristics:
- It describes need in great detail.
- It presents a solution to that need that can only be activated by the donor.
- It is not organizationally focused.
- It asks the donor to be part of the solution by giving.
- It does all of this in human and emotional terms.
“Results/reporting back” language and messaging has different characteristics:
- It describes results and outcomes.
- It talks about success and solutions achieved.
- It will have more organizational information. (Careful: Don’t get carried away here.)
- It tells the donor they were part of the solution.
- It does all of this in human and emotional terms and adds facts and proof that what the donor set out to do with the organization actually worked!
You can see how different these two languages are, and they serve a specific objective or phase in relationship.
Here’s the problem:
Many MGOs mix these up by using “ask” language in “results/reporting back” context or the reverse. And that confuses the donor. Or both languages are used in the same communication effort. Now, in some cases, I can see the benefit of this. In other words, the MGO is in an “ask” phase and uses “results/reporting back” messaging to prove to the donor that what the MGO is asking the donor to do actually works. This is a strategic use of the two.
Here’s my point. As you are preparing for your encounter with a donor, whether it is a personal encounter, a phone call or even an email—as you are preparing, stop and ask yourself what the objective of this encounter is. Are you going to be asking? Are you setting up a future ask? Are you reporting back and telling the donor how great a difference his or her giving has made in the lives of others or our planet?
Be very clear about this. Then use the lists above to construct your message, so you can stay on point. And remember this key thing: while a “results/reporting back” message can be delivered in one event (one contact) the “ask” sequence may be something that itself happens in phases over many encounters and messages. You should never just come right out and make what I call a cold ask. That approach is abusive to the donor and puts you in the frame of going for the money versus treating the donor as a partner.
Your “ask” sequence should be a series of informational, motivational, emotional stirring touch points that causes the donor to become engaged with the problem you are addressing and then interested in it and finally giving to it. There is definitely a “warm-up” dynamic to an effective ask.
As is true in any relationship, the use of language and messaging can either cause understanding, empathy, unity and clarity or it can be the cause of misunderstanding and confusion. Be clear about what your objective is and then use the language and messaging that matches that objective.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.