I was consulting for a small organization led by a new Executive Director who had no fund raising experience. Typically I try to stay away from going on solicitations as a consultant, rather I help devise strategy and provide training to build capacity. This particular ED was deathly afraid of asking for money so I made a compromise – I agreed to go along for moral support, but she would lead the meeting and make the ask. I would jump in if something went really badly.
So, on the appointed day we met the prospective donor at a restaurant and we had a nice lunch. The ED did a pretty good job of keeping the conversation going, sharing information about the organization and articulating what some of the needs were. However, when it came to actually asking for the donor’s support she fell a bit short. She said that ‘she hoped that the prospective donor would get involved and help’ – and she left it there.
One of the most important parts of the fund raising process is actually making the ask. Sure, there are many pieces – identification, research, cultivation, gaining access, etc. All of these pieces are important. But think about it – if you do all of those elements but you never get around to making the ask, then often times you will not get the gift.
I think that in fund raising we make the mistake of believing that donors know what we need without us explaining it to them. When the ED expressed that she hoped that the prospect would ‘get involved and help,’ that was her way of asking for the gift. The problem is that she was not communicating specifically enough. How should the prospect get involved? What does ‘help’ look like?
Many years ago I was visiting Australia. It is a great country – if you have never been then you need to go. Just watch out for the butter. Allow me to explain. A group of us were hungry and decided to stop at a sandwich place for lunch. There are people in my world who believe that I am a picky eater. Those rumors are extremely exaggerated, I am just selective about what I put in my mouth. So, when I read the menu at this sandwich place I did not see exactly what I wanted because there were too many things with hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, wheat germ, etc. So I told the person behind the counter “I would just like a ham and cheddar sandwich on wheat bread.” I figured I would add a bit of mustard and a little mayo and I would be all set. When I received my sandwich I took a bite and realized that something was very wrong. They had put butter on my sandwich. In Australia this is very common on sandwiches. When I attempted to explain that I did not want butter on my ham sandwich the associate told me “Well, you did not say that you did not want butter.”
When we are dealing with donors, we need to be specific. They need to know what we need from them and there should be no room for ambiguity. “We would like you to consider a gift between $5,000 and $10,000.” This tells the donor exactly what we need. We are not looking for an in-kind gift of clothing for the thrift store, and we are not asking them to join a committee. If we want a financial gift we need to explain that that is what we are after, give them an amount or a range, and then be quiet and allow them to think about it and respond.
If we are too vague and simply ask them to “help out,” we may end up with butter on our sandwich.
Have a great week,