If I had just one dollar for every fundraiser who has told me that their CEO or Chair of the Board is afraid to ask, I could afford, well, a lot of stuff!
I bring this up because I was reminded recently of a leader of a well-known nonprofit in the Midwest who only wanted to go on “An Ask” if he was assured the answer would be “Yes.” As we all know, it doesn’t quite work that way, does it?
This aversion to “No” does create a certain opportunity, however.
If you happen to work under a CEO who is of a similar mind set, I’d like to suggest that you have a conversation with your prospective major donor that would go something like this:
You know my CEO/boss and I know you and he agree on many issues we face. He is passionate about seeing this project succeed. We’re at a critical point now and we need some ‘believer donations’ to come through for the project. He would like to ask a select group of special supporters for an early show of support for the project. Would you be open to talking to him about this? I know he’s hoping he can count on you.
Of course, that’s when you allow for silence as your major donor prospect considers his level of interest. If his answer if “Yes,” you can respond in this way:
That’s great! Thanks a lot. I know he’s very eager to talk with you about it. If he were to ask you for $xxx,xxxx, would that be a comfortable conversation for you?
If your major donor prospect’s answer is “No,” try this:
What might have to happen for you to consider a leadership gift of that type?
This, of course, means that you and the CEO have some further cultivation to do before the CEO should be doing any major gift asking.
Can you see the advantages to this approach? First, as an experienced and savvy fundraiser, you phrase the pre-ask in the right way. You frame the conversation in such a way that you talk about the things you know motivate the donor and how this project will match what his interests in the organization are. Also, because of your experience, you’ll know how to ask in a straightforward way for a specific “stretch” amount, and because you will have done your homework, you’ll know the names of peers who have already committed to inject into the conversation.
Lastly, you’ll be carefully listening and making notes that you can bring back to your CEO that reflect the sentiments, if not the exact words, of your conversation with the donor/prospect.
This is what is known as doing your bit as a good steward…you’ve made your donor/prospect AND your CEO comfortable and you’ve made it very possible for your CEO to achieve a successful Ask.
Here’s hoping you get some of the credit!
Tell us about your experience helping CEOs with “The Ask.”.