Do I Have to be a Donor’s Best Friend to Ask for a Gift?

This is a fair question that the men and women of TTG have been asked many times over the past 30+ years. Please allow me to go out on a limb early and give you a simple answer… “NO!” Let me harken back to my high school algebra class where you can give the right answer, but then you must produce the equation to show how you got there, so here goes.

We have been conducting executive searches for more than 25 years. One of the questions we ask development directors, major gift officers, vice presidents, and presidents is, “If you began your new position on November 1st, how long would it take you to schedule a donor appointment and make an ask?” Are you ready for some of their answers? Two years, eighteen months, twelve months, six months, three months—we too, are baffled by these responses. These candidates assume that they must be the donor’s friend and, in some instances, their BFF to make a gift request. Can you imagine how long donor acquisition, cultivation, education, inspiration, and solicitation would take if you had to become everyone’s best friend to ask for a gift? Apparently, according to some people, it would require at least a year and perhaps two.

A few years ago, in a search for a major gift officer for a well-known ministry, I asked that question and received an absolutely refreshing answer. My candidate responded that he would be ready to make an ask the first week on the job. What? How could that possibly work? Here’s how he envisioned his first week as a new fundraiser/relationship officer:

·       Day 1 – Orientation and paperwork.

·       Day 2 – Find my desk and begin reviewing the solicitation materials and the giving history of his donor portfolio.

·       Day 3 – Meet with his immediate supervisor and other team members to hear their presentation/pitch.

·       Day 4 – Visit the president to hear his mission, vision, and core values of the organization.

·       Day 5 – Call close friends and schedule personal appointments to share the ministry and make a request.

In addition, all week this new major gift officer spent time in the dining commons having breakfast, lunch, and sometime dinner with students asking them why they attended this institution. He listened to what God was calling them to do now and in the future, because he wanted to share their stories as part of his presentation.

We helped him with the phone script for scheduling appointments, but much of his donor engagement strategy was just his innate, God-given relational skills. The script went like this:

Bill and Mary, this is John. I wanted to tell you about a wonderful new opportunity God has given me. I have the unique privilege of sharing the incredible work God is accomplishing though ABC Ministry and inviting people to partner with us. Don’t feel under any obligation to our friendship; I just want to share with you this unique organization and ask for your prayer and financial support. Could we meet Tuesday evening in your home? I will update you on the ministry and bring along a personalized proposal for you to consider and invite you to give. I only need an hour of your time so we can both plan our other Tuesday evening activities.”

He included this phrase in the presentation to those who were already donors:

“Jim and Joan, the president would like to visit with you personally, but time and his travel schedule will not allow it. So, he asked me to meet with you on his behalf and invite you to consider a generous year-end gift. Would you be available next Tuesday evening?”

As a fundraiser, it’s not your relationship with the donor that’s the most important. It’s the donor’s relationship with your ministry they have known, loved, and supported with their prayers and dollars for many years.

Back to answering our question; No, you do not have to be everyone or anyone’s best friend to ask for a gift. The real issue is connecting with the donor’s passion for your ministry. When you tell them you are bringing along a proposal, you open the door to ask on the first visit, if the opportunity is right.

OK, OK, I hear you, “but what about building relationships?” We encourage our clients to “date your donors.” You may not be ready to ask your donor on the first date, it may require a second date. But it certainly doesn’t take five or six dates to reintroduce yourself and make a request. Overcome your FUD—Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Pick up the phone, text, write a hand-written note, and schedule a personal visit (in a mask, of course), or a Zoom call. This step of faith will impact your bottom line the next 90 days as we head toward calendar year-end.

A few years ago, I evaluated a chief development officer’s performance. We visited a donor couple in early October. While driving there, he informed me this would be his sixth visit. Count them, six! My role was only to observe and evaluate. Twice during the presentation, the couple mentioned they had some funds still available to give yet that fall. This was the ultimate donor research information. They were screaming, “ASK US!”

My friend never missed a beat, he just kept talking. He ignored all their giving signs. No ask… no close… no money. It was very apparent that he was attempting to become their best friend or even their BFF before he could make an ask. It will come as no surprise that this former gift officer is now pastoring a small church on the west coast. Allow me to say it again, “No, you don’t need to be your donor’s best friend to invite them to upgrade their giving or consider a new gift to your organization.” Be bold! Ask!

Author: Pat McLaughlin, President and Founding Partner

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