Don’t wait too long to ask. It makes people anxious.
I’ve seen this happen so many times. I’ll be sitting with an E.D. or a board member at lunch with a prospective donor. We’ve talked in advance about our roles. I’ll handle the details and technical questions. They’ll inspire and, ultimately, make ‘the ask’.
It begins well. It continues even better. They engage in lively conversation about the cause. The prospect leans forward, animated and wrapped up in the flow. Then, just when I’m sure ‘the ask’ will be made and the prospect will say “yes!”… S C R E E C H ! The designated ‘asker’ thanks the prospect for their time and past support. We get up from the table and leave.
It ends with an undetected whimper. Afterwards they say: “That was great. I think they’re ready for the ask.”
If you don’t pick the fruit at the point of ripeness it rots. Yes, they were ready for the ask. And we left them high and dry. We didn’t deliver. Now they’re wondering, why not? Were they not good enough for us? Why did we ask to meet with them? They become confused and it’s actually stressful for them. That stress causes them to feel vaguely negative about us on a sub-conscious level.
Before long they won’t be ready for an ask. The stress, and other things, will get in the way. There’s actual research on flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and it’s defined as that near-mystical state of being where everything falls away save for the act you are currently involved in. Our prospective donor was in that state – where they were not thinking about money. They were thinking about being a part of our exciting, essential mission. How long might it be before we get them to meet with us again? And what will have happened to their flow by then?
When opportunity knocks you’ve got to answer the door. You’ve got to learn to go with the flow. You can’t be so afraid to ask that you misread the signs and leave the donor hanging.
You’ve probably witnessed a donor spontaneously going with their own flow. I certainly have. It’s the person in a campaign meeting who becomes so inspired that they jump up and offer a challenge grant to kick-start the campaign. Or the donor at an auction who, seeing two bidders compete for the item they’ve donated, impulsively offers a second item so both bidders can win.
Most of the time you must channel the flow and help the donor take the leap they want to take. That’s your job. Most folks need a little push to act. Cultivation is important. But, ultimately, you’ve got to leave it behind and get to the point. Leaving things to chance is not a strategy.
What’s your most effective strategy for avoiding the mistake of not getting to the ‘ask’?
Photo: Flickr, Dave Dugdale
I have been there too many times with organizational leadership. The work that has to be done afterwards to attempt to secure a gift is totally unnecessary. It is only hard for 5 seconds, then you wait. Simple!!! Thanks for putting your words of wisdom out there for us to follow!
Ain’t it the truth. I like that. “It’s only hard for 5 seconds.”
I’ve been on such visits where the ask is made, but it’s the wrong one. The donor has talked for 20 minutes about how much he/she loves the organization’s youth program, and an ask is made for senior adults. Or arts instead of education, etc. I always go prepared to ask for what we most need and THINK they are most interested in, but the donor can through you for a loop. And nothing can be worse than asking for something they have no interest in as if you haven’t heard a word they have said about what is most important to them.
Great point Gregg. The best way to save that, if you’re the staff person, is to jump in and say: “Or, you know what? We came here thinking we’d ask you for the senior’s program but didn’t realize you had such an interest in our youth program. That’s also a huge priority for us, and frankly not as many folks understand how critically important it is. It’s so great that you appreciate it, and I wonder if that might be a program you’d like to support?”
Hopefully at that point your volunteer will get the message and play along. 😉