Major Gifts Fundraising Fears – Asking For The Big Gift is fundraising veteran Jim Eskin’s take on confronting emotional resistance when inviting a donor to invest a big gift.
“I’ll do anything for this non-profit except asking for gifts.”
How many times have you heard a board member, senior management, key volunteer or other supporter express that?
Answer is likely too many times.
Major Gifts Fundraising Fears – Asking For The Big Gift
Being Afraid of Asking is Perfectly Normal
This is a challenge shared by non-profits from all different sectors and of all different sizes. As a fundraising trainer/consultant who’s heard this line more times than I can count, I wanted to break this issue down into several digestible bites that will help people overcome the fear. Believe me, I’ve seen hundreds of men and women overcome this fear. It’s entirely possible.
This is what I like to tell them:
- There is nothing unusual about being frightened of asking someone you know for a gift for your favorite non-profit or cause. In fact, I’m surprised when I don’t hear this fear expressed. So, the first thing I tell people that they are far from being alone. I like to have fear of asking for gifts candidly discussed during board or committee meetings. There is nothing to be gained by hiding this fear. It’s very useful for board and staff to hear from peers on this subject.
Fear of the Unknown
- More than anything else this is a fear of the unknown. People expressing this fear have never experienced a genuine solicitation themselves as a donor or solicitor. They are much more familiar with passively receiving a gift rather than strategically and intentionally asking for it. There is a huge difference between the two. When you passively receive a gift, the donor entirely influences the amount, timing and the purpose. When you intentionally ask for a gift you can influence the amount, timing and the purpose.
- For that reason I like to role-play solicitations of top prospects. To double down on the learning curve, we can bring the person who has never experienced an ask along with a seasoned board member or staff who makes frequent asks and watch them in action.
There’s a Lot More to Securing the Gift than the Ask
- There is a tendency to consider the ask the only significant part of the process that results in a gift. That’s far from the truth. Cultivation is an absolutely critical phase of introducing the mission, programs, stories and impact of the non-profit to the donor prospect well before an ask is made. Do the cultivation properly, and the chances go way up of being successful during the ask. Perform a weak cultivation phase, and it probably won’t matter how skilled the solicitor is.
- The cultivation phase begins with doing research on the prospective donor concerning their financial capacity, philanthropic history and, most importantly of all, their interest in the mission of the non-profit.
- Play the relationship card — no, make that the friendship card — to the hilt. You are way ahead when you engage someone the donor prospect knows and trusts in the solicitation (though they don’t have to make the ask). Their role can be breaking the ice and scheduling the meeting, which is often one of the most challenging parts of obtaining a major gift.
- Practice, practice, practice. While there is no need for a word for word script, there must be a very clear understanding of who is going to do what during the meeting and when. Personally, after a productive cultivation phase, I like to see the ask be made early in the solicitation meeting so there is ample opportunity to respond to questions and concerns.
Putting “No” In Perspective
- “No” often has several nuances. It may express not now, not for this project, not for that amount. That’s why it’s essential to keep the donor prospect informed about the non-profit/project even if they decline the ask. Remain persistent and positive. Seldom does a major gift ask result in a check being written on the spot. There might be a need for more cultivation and having another friend of the prospect to reinforce the ask.
- Remember, you’re asking for something much bigger than yourself — the mission of the non-profit that you believe in. That conviction can’t benefit from increased funding unless its board and staff put themselves on the line and ask.
In Closing …
- If you do hear no, it’s far from the end of the world. I hear that supposedly some people can’t take the rejection. I challenge that assumption. I don’t know anybody who’s trying to accomplish something significant that doesn’t hear no as part of their daily work. You hear no, and guess what happens? The sun comes up the next morning, and there will be opportunities with other donor prospects. Solicitations date back at least to 1643, when Harvard conducted its first fundraising drive (that helps explain why they have an endowment in excess of $50 billion). In all that time since 1643 there is no recorded incident of someone being injured by hearing no to their solicitation. Anybody who asks is not putting themselves in harm’s way.
Like a lot of other challenges in life, once you have a few solicitations under your belt, everything appears very differently. This doesn’t mean you won’t be turned down. That is all part of the fundraising business. But with each and every ask confidence and comfort replace fear. And then you can join the ranks of those mentoring others who are still afraid of asking for gifts.
Major Gifts Fundraising Fears – Asking For The Big Gift was first posted at National Development Institute
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Jim Eskin’s consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 150 fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that empower nonprofits to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here.