Monday, 30 June 2014

Making The Ask: unlock your prospects

I may have mentioned previously that my own personal motto is 'You don't ask you don’t get'. As a result, I ask for gifts regularly (and successfully) and am often questioned by my peers about the best way in which to go about this crucial area of fundraising.

There are many theories about when the right time is to make THE ASK. Should you always ask for a gift in your first meeting with a prospect? Should you wait until the third contact with them? Should they have received regular mailings for years, had a few meetings with you, as well as engagement through event attendance? I would say none of the above. Or all of the above. The secret is, IT DEPENDS.

Making an ask should never be something that you have to worry about the timing of. It should be the natural progression of your relationship with someone, be them an individual, or representing a company or trust.

You will have been open about why you were meeting the prospect in the first place. You will have had enough discussion that you'll have found out about interests of the prospect – whether they need to meet someone else in the organisation, or make a visit, or hear about a specific project. You might know a little about their previous philanthropic activity. You will know from them whether they need time, or if they are ready right there and then make a gift - either to test your organisational processes and stewardship, or a more substantial amount.

You might have the information that you need in 5 minutes, or it might take 5 years. Some individuals might bring a cheque with them. Sometimes they will have no intention of giving in their lifetime but want to discuss a legacy.

So a quick recap, we have so far basically discovered that everyone is different and all situations need to be analysed individually. Are there actually any tips then? Ok, here we go…

Listen very carefully to your prospects. They will give out signals. Some might be as obvious as asking about the cost of your projects or how to make a gift. This is clearly green light territory.

They might ask for more information, or simply seem interested and ask questions, but still seem guarded or unsure. Take this as amber. Follow up quickly and comprehensively, recapping your discussion and ensuring you answer any queries. Then meet them again to discuss in more detail. Maybe many times. You should really consider drawing up a cultivation strategy in this case – invite them to relevant events, or to meet individuals that might engage them. They could be a very good prospect in the future.

On the other hand, you may have a difficult first meeting. Complex questions, accusations about your charity, anger expressed about the way your prospect has been handled by someone in the organisation in the past or bad experiences giving philanthropically elsewhere. Remember thought that this person has made time in their diary to meet you. They are engaging, even if they are upset, angry or seem uninterested. They are interested enough to have come to tell you how upset or disappointed they are. Again, consider a long term strategy of engagement and cultivation. They probably want to be persuaded to re-engage and could be one of your most vocal supporters in the future.

This is all very well, but when are you supposed to actually ASK them for a gift? All I can tell you is that if you have built a relationship with them over a number of minutes, hours, weeks or years, you will eventually reach that point in the conversation, naturally. It won’t be forced, it won’t be a surprise to your prospect and you won’t be panicking. You will KNOW. 

Hannah (@hannahbrodie)

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