Making the Ask

Posted on 10/01/2021

People make charitable donations for many different reasons. Some give out of a sense of loyalty and appreciation for an experience they had, because they want to make a difference in the life of another, or because they believe that the institution has a positive impact through its teaching, research or other programs. Others give because they receive something of value in exchange for their support—special access, tax breaks, parking or other privileges. But the number one reason people give is quite simple: because they are asked.

There are several things that need to be aligned to ensure that everyone is “prepared” for a gift solicitation to take place. First, you need to find the right prospect. This is someone who has a relationship with or an interest in your institution as well as the inclination and capacity to make a gift. You also need to determine the right time. Maybe it’s been a year since the prospect’s last gift, it’s a reunion year for the prospect’s class, or maybe your institution is marking a special occasion like the anniversary of its founding. And then, you need to figure out the right amount to ask for. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a good sense of this number. As a general rule, it’s important to aim high while considering the individual prospect’s past giving and capacity.

Whether you’re a professional gift officer, a phonathon caller or a volunteer, keep in mind the following five guidelines the next time you solicit a prospect for money:

  1. Little yeses can lead to big yeses. Warm up your prospective donors by asking them simple questions about themselves framed in a positive way.
  2. Be specific, confident, and precise. Always ask for a specific amount. Avoid casual second attempts that start out like, “Well, then, how about…”
  3. Set the bar high. If at first, you don’t succeed, you can always try again with a smaller amount. But once they say yes, you can’t ask for more.
  4. Be ready to overcome objections. Familiarize yourself with common refusal reasons. Prepare (and practice) a response to each one.
  5. Don’t let an awkward silence get the better of you. After you ask, sit quietly and wait for the prospect to respond. The one who speaks first loses.

Remember that it’s a conversation, not an auction. Being solicited should never come as a surprise to your prospect, but ultimately they make their own decisions about giving. You’re just there to lend a hand. If you prepare and practice before every gift solicitation, more often than not it will be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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