How to Prepare for a Successful Donor Ask

In this post, I share a story from a fundraising professional about the importance of preparation to making a successful ask. He describes how he tries to identify the best person to make each ask and then thoroughly prepares for each meeting so the asker – whether it is a board member, the ED, or someone else – is confident in their role.

This post is the latest in my series about fundraising for nonprofit organizations. Other posts include:

Select an “Asker” Who Will Connect the Donor to the Organization

As told by a fundraising professional somewhere in the US

I am a professional fundraiser. But I don’t have to do the ask. I firmly believe my job is first and foremost to build a relationship between the organization and the donor. I don’t want the relationship to be with me. To do this, you have to think strategically about who the “asker” is. It might be the ED or a staff person or a board member. And you have to prepare and support that person.

Be Very Clear About Expectations Around Fundraising

Board members can be great Askers. That said, every organization needs to be clear during the recruitment process what the expectations are for board members around personal giving and fund raising. Some organizations require board members to help with fundraising; others don’t. There are also board members who have no idea what fundraising entails – so be specific. Otherwise — and I have seen this – the board book or job description says board members are expected to be involved with fundraising. But no details are given. So, a new person comes on the board and says they did not understand what expected and they don’t want to do it. When I start at an organization, I always ask, “What kind of support are we giving the board around fundraising? Do they even know that it is a priority? Do they get regular trainings?” I also understand that there are some who really are not comfortable even with training. So, I try to find them different roles.  

Preparation Is Key to Success

No matter who does the ask – whether it is a board member or the CEO or a volunteer or even other staff — my role as a professional fundraiser is to do my best to set them up for success. I need to understand what information is necessary for that person to be confident. I am not saying that I tell them this is the way you have to do it. More like, what do you need? How can I help you feel supported?

Before an ask, staff need to do some leg work. I like to work with the CEO and the fund development committee chair to think through who would be the best person to make an ask. Usually more than one person meets with the donor. You have to work with this group to map out the meeting: who should say what, how to respond in different scenarios, what to look for that shows the donor is interested.

I am a big believer of like asking like. So, for example, a board member should ask another board member. I also feel strongly that board members who make asks should be donors themselves. You should not ask someone to support an organization that you are not supporting yourself. That does not work.

Board Member Increases Donation and Secures Multi-Year Commitment

I will give you an example. In this case, we had a long-time, major donor who was on the board. We were trying to figure out how to approach this person about a multi-year commitment which was new and about increasing the amount of that commitment. We saw that there was another board member who had a close relationship and history with this donor and decided this was the best person to make that happen.

Here the board and staff worked really well together. We had a planning meeting. There was a program staff member, someone from the senior leadership team, the board member who was going to do the ask, and me. We created an agenda for the ask and listed all the key talking points. We scripted everything: If the donor says this, go this direction. If the donor says that, go that direction. I mapped out a couple of different options. I told the board member what some cues would be to show the donor was open to an ask.

We set up a meeting place and time. It was agreed that I would not be there. Instead the board chair would go. The board member doing the ask had printed out my script with all the different options. They told me what happened afterward. When the donor indicated openness, the board member doing the ask said, “I would like to ask you something.”  And then she pulled out the script and read exactly what I had written. That was not exactly what I had intended. But it worked and the donor agreed to an increased gift and committed to two years.

The feedback I got from the board member doing the ask was that she felt well prepared and knew what to do. It worked.

Lessons Learned

What lessons did I learn from this?

Preparation pays off. We had the right person to make the ask. We had the right people at the meeting. The asker felt prepared and confident. The script was powerful.

Be clearer and role play. I should have been clearer about how the script should be used. And we probably should have role played the various scenarios so that the asker would have felt comfortable making the ask without reading what I wrote word for word.  

Encourage board members to ask for preparation. Finally, I would encourage board members to ask for the preparation. If I were to be on a board right now, I would want to sharpen all of my pencils and understand how I could practice excellent ambassadorship and be a resource for revenue.

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