Making the ask
The apocryphal reason potential major donors give for not giving is ‘I was never asked’, and indeed capital appeals sometimes become seriously bogged down because there is an acute nervousness about asking. This can manifest itself in a belief that the donors are not yet ready leading to another round of cultivation events at which bemused donors wonder if they are ever going to be asked.
Unlike major donor development, capital appeals are likely to have strict timetables, and if they are ignored building inflation and other costs rise uncomfortably fast; beginning to eat into funds already raised, until the target becomes impossible and the appeal falters and then fails. To avoid this fate potential major donors are also on a timetable and your development of them has only a certain window of opportunity after which you must ask ‘ready or not’. If you have done your homework properly in the first place this will not be a problem.
If, on the other hand, you are developing new or neglected donors your schedule should leave adequate time for them to appreciate and feel passionate about your organisation’s goals. This process is more likely to be measured in years than months.
How to ask for a Million pounds – a brief guide.
There are several steps to be taken before an ask is made and these are essential to success:
Research the prospect fully; know why he or she supports your organisation. Know their biography and their giving habits. Above all know their wealth and income.
Cultivate the person by bringing them to see your work, meet your director, mingle with your celebrity patrons at receptions and feel at ease with the person who will do the asking. They should already be familiar with the project and any naming opportunities etc. There is no need to repeat these before the ask. That is not why people give.
Decide how much you will ask them to give. If you are not sure you must at least have a short range in mind. If not go back to your research.
The meeting should take place where the prospect is comfortable and when it suits them, though there are differing opinions on the best place to ask. At their office they are relaxed, but may be used to saying no and may be interrupted. At their home or club you will have more time and less chance of interruptions. At your offices or charity premises you can control the environment and interruptions (if you can’t use another venue). Sometimes a neutral club or other premises makes for a good setting, though asking over lunch can mean there are various interruptions.
The person asking should, if possible, be a close colleague and (if they are not staff of the charity) must have made a substantial donation themselves. If they have not given they cannot ask. They will preferably have made a larger or equal donation to the one they are asking for.
I would have no more than two people at an ask. Beyond that people lose the script and talk at the wrong time. It can also be intimidating for the donor. Work out beforehand who speaks when, and schedule the flow of conversation through the meeting. Time it through and act it out with a colleague. Typically one person will be the passionate spokesperson for the appeal, and the other the person is who makes the ask.
Begin the meeting being sociable. Know the prospect well; ask about grandchildren, their latest project etc. – very briefly for say, 5 minutes. Then gain their attention by talking about the benefit the appeal will bring in human terms, even if the prospect already knows this (‘benefits’ instead of ‘features’). Take say, 10-15 minutes only. That can be preceded by mentioning the long association the prospect has had with the charity. This is to establish you are on the same side in this effort.
Use the giving chart to show the amounts needed. You may say something like; ‘We now urgently need to have a gift of X million to ensure this appeal will succeed.’ (If you really do not know the wealth you are facing bracket the amounts ‘Could you join one of these groups of people at these levels?’).
Ask! ‘Can you help us by making a donation of X million pounds?’
Then say absolutely nothing until they reply.
They are thinking – let them think. If you intervene you will lower the amount you receive or find yourself backing away from the ask. If they answer with a question reply to the question and wait again.
Yes, they can pay in instalments etc. Repeat the question. Ask for clarification if it doesn’t make sense. If it is an objection ‘Oh, I could not possibly afford that amount’ meet the objection politely. An objection is not a no. For example, go back to the gift chart and ask where they might be comfortable. If you do not know the answer to their question, say you will find out – do not bluff. If another donor has already asked that question cite them in your response.
If they say yes, thank them and repeat the amount. Then agree the next move. Ask; ‘How would you like to make the payment?’ Agree the next step, don’t leave it in the air. If you do, make sure you write immediately to thank and confirm the gift.
One of the best books on this subject is still; ‘The Artful Journey: Cultivating and soliciting the major gift’ by William Sturtevant published by Bonus Books Inc., Chicago.