Why no-one will tell you how to ask for a major gift (except maybe me)

Why a beagle? Read the article Bub.
(image by Johnny D-50)

This is a tricky one. How many times have you attended a seminar or webinar or other “-ar” on how to ask for a gift, only to walk away still not having any idea what to say? Or read a fantastic fundraising book like Stanley Weinstein’s Complete Guide to Fundraising Management without seeing a single “real” phrase on how to word a request? (Unless you can see yourself saying something like this: “Does any part of our organization’s case for support especially appeal to you?” – Holy Hannah! Sorry Stanley, but Sheesh!)

Well, it’s tricky for a couple of (four) reasons:

  1. It’s different in every situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all ask.
  2. People writing books on fundraising will err on the side of sounding formal and smart. But no-one actually talks that way, so the suggested phrases are usually (hopefully!) ignored.
  3. Fundraisers are a bit proprietary. But usually they’re just playing the confidential card because they are embarrassed by what actually got said in the meeting.
  4. Fundraisers are perfectionists. Every ask is its own gong show to some degree, but few fundraisers share the valuable information gleaned from having an ask go sideways.

In reality, unless your boss is pushing you to make a solicitation before its time (a deadly, but common, sin) then you should be heading into the ask meeting with some kind of idea of the donor’s response. Even better, you may have already executed a “pre-ask” which I will delve into in a separate piece.

Regardless, just find your own words. Start the meeting with some small talk if appropriate, and then just get right to it. Say something like: “…that’s great that you finally taught your beagle to roll over John. Now as you know, I’ve got a proposal to share with you and…”[insert option A or B]

Option A: “… it’s the most fantastic thing in the world [describe it in brief detail]…We’re ready to get started and would love your support for the project. Would you consider making a gift of $20,000? [pause for a few seconds and let him think about it, but none of those creepy Long Pauses you read about, they’re fake and a bit manipulative]…What do you think John?” 

Or Option B: “…we’re hoping you’ll consider supporting it with a gift of $20,000 [then describe it in brief detail]. What do you think John?”  

Try it. Adjust it. Need more help? Check out this video or practice by making one of your own. No really! Just record something on your phone people, you don’t need to be Sophia Coppola. Buona fortuna!

– siobhan


About Siobhan Aspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 20 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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