Mastering the In-Person Fundraising Ask

Mastering the In-Person Fundraising Ask

Any fundraiser, development officer, major gifts officer needs to know this. The “ask” is the apex of a long mating ritual, of sorts, that unfolds and deepens over the course of months or even years. It’s not a one-and-done deal. Treat it as such and the “deal” will indeed be done – but not in the way you had hoped.

There is a science to making an in-person fundraising ask. There’s a structure to how you spend your time when you’re sitting with a major donor. But the heart of the in-person ask is more of an art. It’s beautifully layered. It’s genuine. It’s human. It’s complex and colorful, and it leaves both parties feeling like they are part of something special. Because they are.

“The role of the person making the ask is to get closure on a conversation that has been occurring over many months, if not years,” says Jeff Jowdy, founder and president of Lighthouse Counsel, a Nashville-based fundraising consultancy. “People perceive that the ask is important, and it is. But the important thing is that the ask be natural – the next step in an increasingly meaningful, usually longer-term relationship where there has been an ongoing conversation about what your goals are and how important they are, and what role the donor can play in them, and what the donor’s goals are and what role the organization can play in them.”

Jeff Schreifels, senior partner at a Pennsylvania-based fundraising consultancy Veritus Group, defines the role of a major gift fundraiser as “the bridge between the donor and their desire to change the world and the programs and projects you have that do that.”

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– A Sneak Peak Into “Mastering the In-Person Fundraising Ask”

Take an Inside Look at the Chapters of This Ebook:


1. It Starts with You

In a blog post for 101fundraising, Karen Osborne, senior strategist at New York-based management and consulting firm The Osborne Group, outlines certain traits and talents that major gifts fundraisers must bring to the table to ensure a successful in-person fundraising ask. As Jeff Jowdy says, those traits kick in long before the face-to-face meeting. They include…

2. Keys to a Successful In-Person Fundraising Ask

It all comes down to relationships – pretty much no matter who you ask. Like any good relationship, the major gift officer/major donor relationship needs to be built over time. You must allow the donor to fully understand and embrace the work that your organization does. While the relationship might start with a mild interest or curiosity, time will allow that interest to deepen. Open, honest, consistent, regular and respectful communication is crucial…

3. When Fundraisers Are Afraid to Ask for Funds

It’s surprising and a bit sad when you hear fundraisers talking about being afraid to make the ask. You hear it in session rooms at conferences, and not just in the U.S. You hear it in webinars. Wherever fundraising and development officers gather, you’re bound to hear someone talking about – or maybe trying not to talk about – the reluctance of fundraisers and development officers to sit down, face to face, with major donors and make the ask…

4. The Actual Meeting: Tips and Structure

Even with due diligence and all your ducks in a row, you still need to know the basic structure of a successful in-person fundraising ask.

In his “The Awesome Ask: How to Approach Your Donors for Gifts in a Way That’s Comfortable and Effective!” webinar for CharityHowTo, Brian Saber, fundraising consultant and president of NYC-based Asking Matters, outlines what an “intentional conversation” looks like. He shares his Intentional Conversation Worksheet, which is built around the…

5. When to be Quiet

Awhile I ago I was hosting a webinar about major giving, and the panel was a somewhat raucous group of fundraisers who were having a grand old time in the freestyle roundtable format. We were talking about “making the ask” when Marc Pitman, a fundraising coach and consultant, advised that once you put it out there, the best thing to do is, “Just shut up.” The panel got a great chuckle out of that, but then they all agreed it was…

6. 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Blow a Face-To-Face Fundraising Ask

  • Talk more than listen.
  • Don’t listen at all.
  • Go in for the ask without having cultivated a genuine relationship.
  • Make the meeting more about you, and not about representing and honoring your institution. Let your ego take over.
  • Poor timing.

Jowdy shares an example where the president of an institution that was embarking on a major campaign had not…

7. The Problem with Leadership

Jowdy echoes a lot of the sentiment you often hear at conferences and other gatherings of development and major gifts officers. In-person fundraising asks often go wrong because…

8. Your Asking Style

In his webinar for CharityHowTo, Saber explains the idea of individual Asking Styles and shares his strategy for determining them. Most people have a Primary Asking Style and a Secondary Asking Style, Saber explains. Once you know yours, you can use it to…

9. A Step-By-Step Plan for Nailing the In-Person Fundraising Ask

In his CharityHowTo webinar, Brian also shares his Step-by-Step Asking Plan Worksheet. “Asking is a multi-step process that starts with choosing the right prospects and continues through ongoing cultivation,” he explains. Below is an abbreviated outline of the process and some actions steps to take along the way…

10. More About the Follow-Up

Once your donor has said yes… get it in writing. Have them sign the letter of intent or a pledge card. But, Jowdy says, not until the yes is achieved. Don’t leave the letter or pledge card with them to sign later. Reiterate to them how much…

11. What if the Answer is No?

Most major donor candidates won’t agree to a meeting just to say no. But it can happen. When it does, find out why. Most will explain it. Maybe the timing isn’t right, or the campaign isn’t right, or the amount isn’t right. Whatever the reason, keep the conversation going. “Find out if it would be helpful if they…

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