Asking Permission to Ask

Asking Permission To Ask

In our work with major donors, we often use the expression, “Asking permission to ask.” But what does that mean? When is it appropriate to use in a donor conversation? In Pat McLaughlin’s book, Major Donor Game Plan, he talks in depth about the transition from the “Romance/Relationship” step to the “Request” step with donors. This may be one of the most important steps you will manage in the donor process. A fumble or a miscue here can negatively impact a donor relationship for months, if not years. A successful transition will generally result in a gift to your ministry and an enhanced relationship with that donor forever.

The “Romance/Relationship” step is when you cultivate or strengthen your relationship with an individual donor before you ask for a gift. You have researched as much information as you can about your donor and believe there is good potential for a relationship, but the donor is not quite ready. Don’t make the mistake of asking too soon. Share with them how your ministry impacts lives and aligns with the donor’s giving interests. Build a solid relationship before asking.

The “Request” step is when you personally ask for a specific gift for a specific project or need. It may be a general request for ongoing operations or perhaps a request for a three-year pledge to your capital campaign. Whatever the need, this request is generally done face-to-face with major donors and usually includes a personalized proposal or “ask” piece.

“Asking permission to ask” generally occurs at the end of the romance or cultivation step. Let me describe this scenario. You have identified Mr. and Mrs. Smith as potential donors to your organization. You have researched their capacity and the types of causes they like to support. You have leveraged a board member or another donor to help open the door to a conversation with them. You now have the meeting you were waiting for. The conversation proceeds and Mr. and Mrs. Smith seem to resonate with your ministry. They have questions but seem open. They may ask you to get back with them with some specific information (statistics, annual report, financial reports, etc.). This may even require a second face-to-face meeting or phone conversation.

You reach the point where you want to make the ask but you are not quite sure. You do not want to rush it, but neither do you want to miss the opportunity to ask. You then ask a couple questions:

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith, ‘Is our ministry (or this project) something you could see yourselves supporting as a financial partner now or in the future?’” If yes,

“Do I have your permission to come back and share a proposal for your financial partnership?” In other words, you are asking their permission to proceed with an ask.

Obviously, a “yes” response is what you are hoping for and you can then schedule a time frame for follow up. You might ask a question like, “Would two weeks from now work for us to get back together?” Or, “when would you like to talk next?” Get a date on your calendar, if possible.

If they answer “no” or “unsure,” it simply means you have more cultivation to do. The donor is not ready. By asking the permission question, you have not offended the donor by asking outright before she/he is ready. You are keeping the conversation open. And keeping them in charge of the timing by first asking permission to ask, then planning your follow up accordingly.

One last tip – When you are a point in the relationship where you are not 100% sure, or relatively confident, the donor is ready, you should always revert to asking permission to ask first. That way, you cannot lose. They will tell you if they are ready.

Author: Kent Vanderwood, Vice President

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