Elements of a Major Gift Ask

Jack Peterson, Managing for Mission
November, 2016 


In most cases, meaningful donations happen because someone asks.  That’s why it’s considered one of the 5 Requisites for Development Success.  When we’re hoping for substantial gifts from potential benefactors, those asks must be done in a way that is clear, thoughtful and compelling.  From my experience as a development director and school president, I’ve learned that 8 steps are crucial to making an effective request from an important donor.

The first step is setting the appointment:  Nothing happens till this does.  When calling to set the appointment, avoid making the ask while on the phone.  The call may go something like this

You:  “I’m working on the capital campaign for the school and would like to talk with you about your       possible involvement.”

Donor: “We’re not in a position to give at this point”

You: “That’s okay, all I’m asking for at this point is the opportunity to tell you what we’re up to and let you determine whether you have an interest”

Second, know the prospective donor: Even if you know the person, take time to review their file. You’ll often be reminded of important information that isn’t top of mind: children’s names, issues raised in the last conversation, events at the school, most recent gifts.  I’m surprised how often this information is key to the conversation.

Third, practice for the call:  It’s always beneficial to run through the call with someone familiar with the donor. It can feel awkward to role play in advance, but it’s amazing how well it prepares you for the give and take of the actual meeting.  If more than one person from the school will participate in the call, decide who will present what and who will make the actual request.

Fourth, give context:  Even if the donor feels she knows the cause well, take time to explain it and paint a picture for her. Use the case statement or materials prepared.  Numbers and logic are helpful, but more important is sharing your own motivations and emotional reasons for being involved.  Also, consider what you know about this person’s values and interests, look at the project from their perspective and frame your presentation in those terms.

Fifth, ask for a gift:  It’s important to ask for a specific gift, so that the person understands what he could do to make the overall project a success.  But it’s also important to be clear that it is this person’s choice.  They have been entrusted by God with this decision as a steward of resources.  If God trusts them with the decision, we can too.  The request might sound something like this:

“In light of what I’ve presented and the importance of this project for the school, we were hoping you’d consider a pledge of $500,000 over the next 3 years to fund the new college counseling center.  You may be interested in doing more than that, in which case we would be even closer to our goal.  Or you may feel you can’t do that much.  Whatever you decide, based on your understanding of the project’s importance and your own circumstances, will be gratefully accepted.”

After this is said, stop talking and let the donor respond to your request.  Our temptation will be to cushion the ask with more words.  More often than not, this is distracting for the donor, who is giving serious thought to your request.

Sixth, handle objections:  Objections may come after your request has been made, or they may come before.  In either case, these are opportunities to hear what the donor is thinking, so they’re crucial moments in the meeting.  The best way to handle objections is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the issue, share how you may have had to deal with that yourself, and then what conclusion you came to.  A good structure for doing this is called “Feel, Felt, Found.”  You might say something like this:

“I know how you feel about whether technology has more bad effects than good.  I felt that myself as I looked at that project and thought about the impact of technology in my own life.  What I found is that these kids are entering a world saturated by technology and we need to prepare them for it in a way that’s centered in our faith.”

Seventh, finalize the pledge:  If the donor agrees to a pledge before the meeting ends, have a pledge form ready and help them complete it to record their intentions.  In many cases, the donor will want additional time to consider the request.  Suggest a timeframe to get back to them to finalize their intentions.  Don’t simply leave them a pledge form, even if they suggest that.  Given people’s tendencies to procrastinate, they may get distracted and it will feel like nagging if you have to follow up.  Agree to a time that works for them for you to follow up. Wait to fill out the pledge form with them when they have made their decision.

Eighth, thank the donor.  Thank them for the opportunity to present the case.  Thank them when they’ve made a decision.  Have others important to them offer their thanks as well.  Helping to make this a great experience for the donor will increase the likelihood of giving in the future.

A free PDF version of a pocket brochure covering the 8 steps of a Major Gift Ask that can be printed and given to staff and volunteers is available from Managing from Mission, by emailing jackpeterson@managingformission.com. A free 6 minute video tutorial about making the Major Gift Ask is available at this link: 8 Steps of a Major Gift Ask.  To learn more about fund development for faith-based schools or managing your school around its unique mission, visit the other parts of this website at www.managingformission.com.

Finally, thank you for inviting potential benefactors to help you foster the spiritual and academic growth of the next generation.

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