Communicating the Ask


“Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”  (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9)  This is excellent advice to everyone, and most especially fundraising professionals or people seeking support for charitable organizations.

 All charitable organizations need the contributions of generous people to meet their obligations and to reach their potential.  People with discretionary resources want to make a difference in the world through their charitable contributions.  How do we connect those in need with those who want to make a difference?  Good communications.

This sounds easy, and there is no reason that it should be difficult, if you follow a few basic rules.  Communication is key.  Meeting personally with people to learn their story, and to determine what they are passionate about doing is the most important.  Then, staying in touch and encouraging them to help through personal communications (visits, phone calls, e-mails) and the mass communication of your nonprofit: newsletters, e-mail blasts and events is a way to keep them engaged.

Cultivating the Proper Relationships

As you move through the community, doing your work, you should prioritize and spend more time with people who can, and do, help you prosper and grow.  Donors and volunteers should not remain as simply names on a list, with no personal connection. You should initiate a more personal relationship and spend some time with them, trying to see where their heart is, what it is they have to give, and how they might like to make a difference.  Knowing that, you are ready to ask for their help.

When you approach someone for their financial support, you are best prepared if you know them well, have nurtured a relationship which has enabled you to learn their interests and where their passions lie, so that you can try to tie your requests into their personal philanthropic objectives.  If you have not had the chance to develop that kind of rapport, then you should try to approach them with someone they do know well—someone they love admire or respect.

Making a Specific Request

You should go to call on the prospective donor formally to ask for their help.  Don’t go with a mixed agenda of several other things, and don’t go see them after your weekly tennis (or golf) match and ask them while enjoying a hot dog and a beer at the club.  Arrange for a formal meeting in their home or office (this makes them comfortable), and go with a single minded purpose to ask them for their gift—a very specific gift.

You want to make sure that you ask for a specific amount, such as $100,000 per year over 5 years (or in some instances a range) of money.  They need to know what it is you need to make this project a success.

Where possible, you ought to try to tie this request to a commemorative or memorial giving opportunity to offer them the opportunity honor their family name.  You might say: We hope that you might consider a gift of $1,000,000 per year over the next five years, for a total gift of $5,000,000 to commemorate the new ‘Phillips Auditorium and Music School Endowment.’

People, and especially potential large donors, want to know what you need to succeed with the initiative.  When you ask for something that is not specific, and well-defined, you are creating conditions where it is very difficult to have both the donor and the recipient feel good about their gift.  Imagine having children for whom you did not have a gift list for Santa Claus.  Do you think they would be happy on Christmas morning?  And, if they are not happy, is Santa happy?

You should also emphasize the benefits resulting from their investment.  Such as:  “This incredible new facility and endowed teaching fellowship will change the lives of inner city children from struggling families with whom we plan to create a symbiotic relationship.  This will ensure that they will have no cost access to shows and concerts for years to come, and the opportunity to learn music and receive instruction at modest prices in perpetuity.  People throughout the entire community will be able to come and enjoy special performances and concerts, but it is these ‘at risk’ children of our community whose lives will be changed because we will offer them the opportunity to learn and grow with the mentoring of professional musicians.”

If you take the time to learn the hearts of your donors, work diligently to calibrate their own goals with the objectives of your institution, and approach them with a clearly articulated and specific request, you will likely find that you have created the conditions for your success.  When all is done, both you and the donor are likely to be enthusiastic about the new course you have set.

Build strong relationships; be specific; be passionate; be considerate and you will find that you will be successful by engaging your donors in mutually beneficial partnerships that are fulfilling to all parties.  Good luck.

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