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Mayes Wilson & Associates

Is asking for money part of your job description?

Julie Whelan Capell |

Asking for money. If you’re a leader (staff or volunteer) of a nonprofit, eventually you’ll have to ask people for money. It’s part of the job description.

I’ve often worked with clients who want to pass this job off to their development staff. That’s okay for some prospects, but the biggest, most important asks need to be done by the leader. You can’t delegate this. When it’s time to approach your community’s biggest donors and top business people, they will expect to meet with the leaders of your organization. Peers need to solicit peers.

The problem with this is, many nonprofit CEOs and board presidents don’t have a lot of training in asking for money. That means I get a lot of questions about how to approach prospects and how to make the ask.

The first thing I tell people is that making the ask is mostly about LISTENING. If that sounds confusing to you, check out this post where I explain why introverts make better fundraisers than extroverts.

The second thing I tell them is to remember to connect to their inner fundraiser. Next, you need to make sure you are meeting with the right people. This is called “qualifying” your major gift prospects.

Who are your major gift prospects?

There is no magic dollar amount that separates your major donors from everyone else. For some organizations, $500 is a major gift. For others, it might be $5,000 or even more. To help you decide who are your best major gift prospects, you should first print out lists of the following groups of donors:

  1. The donors who give you the largest gifts each year
  2. The donors who have given (any amount) regularly for at least four years in a row
  3. People who have told you they have made a planned gift to your organization

Hopefully you have donor tracking software that will make this task easy. If not, get some software as soon as possible!

Qualify your donors

Take those three lists and go over them with your top volunteers and development staff. This is an intense process that may take more than one meeting. I find it’s best to do it together (either virtually or in person) so that everyone can build on each other’s comments. If you have a lot of names on these lists, you might want to restrict your discussion to only 20 or 30 of your very top prospects.

Here are some examples of the information you want to understand about each donor:

  1. What are their special interests? It’s important to know their interests both generally, and specifically as they relate to your organization.
  2. What is their connection to your organization?
  3. Why have they been giving to your organization?
  4. What is their donation capacity? Are they currently giving less than they could be? Or are their gits to your organization among the largest they make?
  5. Is there anything about this donor’s current life circumstances you should know about? Are they getting a divorce? Did they just sell their company? Did their spouse just pass away?
  6. Decide who is the best person from your organization to approach this donor for a meeting. This is an excellent task to assign to your board members. Your volunteers may not be ready or willing to make the ask, but they should be able to open the door for you.

Throughout this process, resist the urge to put new donors on your list. The people who are most likely to give you major gifts are people who are already giving to you.

Next month, I’ll talk about how to schedule the ask meeting.

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