The “One Shot” Ask

“The Ask.”

Those two little words have more loaded meanings and feelings attached to them than perhaps any other phrase in development.  Most volunteers don’t want to do it.  And, sometimes, even seasoned development professionals will feel a bead of sweat trickle down the center of their backs when making “The Ask.”

While I always encourage clients to develop abiding relationships with donors focused more on cultivation, education, and stewardship, there are times when the donor doesn’t wish to be cultivated, educated, or stewarded.   Instead, she just wants to know the particulars of your request.  How much? In what time frame?  For what purpose?  And for what type of recognition?

She may be a busy executive who gives you limited time.  Or he may be a retiree who knows your institution well and  simply likes to cut to the chase. You may be making “The Ask” for a lead campaign gift.  You may be making “The Ask” to complete the campaign.  Or you may be making “The Ask” on your only prospect who realistically can make such a large commitment. The point being, there will be times, some of them crucially important times for your institution, when you need to be expert at “The Ask.”

There needs to be no stuttering.  No stammering.  A confident delivery is a must.  Body language will be key.  Involving an influential volunteer will be critical.  You’ll even choose your wardrobe and shoes specifically for this interaction.  And, then, look the prospect in the eye and make “The Ask.”

So, here is the $1 million question (perhaps, literally):

How do you prepare to make “The Ask” in these vitally important situations?

In my experience, if you are the average development professional, you may devote a half-hour to planning for the interaction with the donor.  You probably haven’t scripted the interaction.  Or, if you did script it, the first time you review the script with your CEO and/or volunteer is in the car driving to meet the prospect.

But you don’t want to be average (and I certainly don’t want you to be average).  So, instead, why not:

  • Prepare multiple scripts based on possible responses from the prospect?
  • Utilize those scripts during role play scenarios with those who will be making “The Ask” with you?
  • Have others in your department watch the role play and critique your body language?
  • Tape the role play and watch it back yourself (video cameras are notthat expensive)?
  • Be so concerned with the outcome that you count the number of “ums” in your delivery and work to delete every one of them?

In short, why don’t you prepare like you only have one shot at “The Ask?”   Our friends in the for-profit sales world prepare like this all the time.

Isn’t your institution, your mission, and the constituents you serve worth this type of preparation, too?


I hope this Easter weekend is filled with joy for each of you.  Blessings.

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