Major donor fundraising and the “Big Ask”

Over 15 years, I’ve found two mindsets particularly helpful for fundraisers and charity leaders to ask for large gifts and raise more.

“The really difficult part in big gift fundraising is not in getting people to give money, it is in getting people to ask…most people in Britain seem to have great difficulty in asking.”

Dr Beth Breeze, Director, Centre of Philanthropy at the University of Kent

I love a lot of Beth Breeze’s research and work but this quote is up there for me. Why?

It can feel really hard asking for money.

  • I’ve felt dread walking out of the office to meet a famous retail owner as everyone in the team shouted out “good luck” and “make sure he gives a lot of money”. Would he give and give “enough”?
  • I’ve worried the night before meeting a major donor couple that if I broach the subject of their giving it might not be the right time for them and they might get annoyed.
  • I work with many trustees who just don’t want to “make the ask”.
  • And many fundraisers who just avoid the subject of giving in conversation and instead email over that new project to a donor.

For many of us, “making that ask” can mean we feel apprehensive, stressed and negative not positive.

This is a huge topic, but read on for two simple tips that I’ve seen make the biggest difference to raising more – having coached over 150 fundraisers and leaders.

1. Offer don’t ask

When you’re “asking” for a gift, the onus is on you. The power feels like it’s with the donor – it’s their action that could mean the difference between your charity reaching its budget or not and you can feel that pressure to persuade them to give.

If we’re “offering”, we’re giving someone the chance to make a difference to something they care about deeply. The balance of power shifts. After all, our charities are in the middle, linking a high net-worth individual with being able to potentially make a huge difference that they can’t do elsewhere in their life.

‘We’re not going with a begging bowl, we’re offering someone the opportunity to make a really big difference to something they care about ’

2.  They might say no and that’s okay

The fear of rejection, someone saying no, is very real in nearly all fundraisers’ psyche whether it’s conscious or not. We often have unrealistic expectations of how those conversations with major donors will pan out.  If we aim for a 100% yes rate to our “asks” that’s just unrealistic; we put ourselves under a lot of pressure and we set ourselves up to fail.  If we’re offering the chance for someone to give, it makes sense that some people might not take us up on that offer.  No is not always a bad thing. It could be no “not now”, no, I need to go away and think about it.  No is not always the end of a relationship.

 In the pandemic, a fundraiser I was coaching gave a major donor the chance to give and got a “no, not now” response. They remained curious, asked about the donor’s situation and continued the relationship with some brilliant updates. Six months later the charity received a gift twice the size of the donor’s previous annual gifts.

‘The most successful major donor fundraisers truly believe that giving is good for people, that giving is a really wonderful thing.’

This was posted on 17 January 2022.


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