Preparing Volunteers To Make The Ask

We are practicing our craft well when we understand that our fundamental role as development professionals is not to ask for gifts, but, instead, to create environments which encourage generosity.  Once we get to this place of effective practice, a good question might be:  “In the situations where an ask must occur, who is in the best position to make it?”

The answer, as unsatisfying as it is, is “it depends.”  And it depends on who would be the most effective at receiving a generous and affirming response from the prospect.  Sometimes we know, of course, that it should be the development professional.  We should make the ask on the donor.  We have the best relationship with the donor, we understand their interests best, and we are well-positioned to make the ask successfully.

But in many cases, it is best to engage others – donors or other volunteers – in the ask.  It may be the local business owner who just made a major commitment during your campaign and indicated that he will “help” with another business owner across town.  Or, it may be a member of your Campaign Cabinet saying that she “knows” the wealthy family of an alum of your institution.  No matter the circumstances, we all understand that there are times when volunteers are better suited to make the ask.

So, what next?  How, specifically, should we engage and prepare these important volunteers to make the most effective asks possible?  Below are a few tips to best prepare your volunteers to make the ask.

  1. Prepare the tools.   Will you be using a case statement during the ask?  How about a personalized proposal?  Or maybe a gift planning document?  Whatever you will be using during the ask, be sure to prepare and review the documents and their purpose with the volunteer.
  2. Share intelligence.  Most likely you have information about the prospect that will assist you and the volunteer during the ask.  And vice versa.  Take the time to do an intelligence screen.  For instance:  What do we know about their interest in our organization?  What connections (family and otherwise) might they have with our organization?  What is their giving history with us?  What other organizations do they support and why?  How has the economy impacted them?
  3. Script the ask.  Over the years, I’ve wondered aloud about the helpfulness of scripting calls.  But, I typically lean on the side of scripting (as opposed to not).  Here’s why:  volunteers need to understand specifically what we need from them during the solicitation.  And although the call never goes as scripted (recall that one of the important “actors” doesn’t have the script beforehand), it is still helpful for you and the volunteer to agree on what is to be said and also, how certain messages need to be delivered.  In addition, possible objections to the ask should be reviewed here as well.  A script is your roadmap for the call.  Make sure the journey is well mapped.
  4. Encourage the volunteer’s story.  Generous investments in our organizations occur when the prospect’s heart and mind come to a point of agreement.  Typically, donors first are moved to give because of a compelling case for support that touched the heart.  Next the head affirmed the decision.  Remind the volunteer to share the reasons why they have decided to be a donor (and yes, every volunteer solicitor needs to have made their commitment prior to the call – and it should at least as much as being asked for during the call).  Ask the volunteer to share why they believe your work is important.   Such “third party” endorsements are exceptionally helpful at reminding all involved why the need to be generous exists.
  5. Agree on language.  As development professionals, we know there are multiple ways to ask for the gift.  For most volunteers, I’ve learned that the most comfortable and effective method is the invitation method.  Simply, this method of asking goes something like this, “Don, you understand the impact we can make with this new program.  We just need the funding.  I hope you will join me in supporting this exciting program with a gift of $_____.”  The “join me” language seems comfortable to most volunteers and it just happens to be an effective approach in many circumstances.
  6. Rehearse.  I still am amazed how many key solicitations occur with volunteers learning their role in the car on the ride over to the donor.  This is akin to sending out late invitations for a special event.  It looks bad and you won’t get the results you want.  Instead, set up a time to visit with the volunteer and review the solicitation.  Go through the proposed script and the tools and make sure everyone is comfortable with the plan and confident in their roles.  Also, in today’s world of inexpensive electronics, I counsel development professionals to video a “call walkthrough” with the volunteer.  Have someone play the donor and video the practice call for review.

Well positioned volunteers can add significant value to your solicitation efforts. Not only can they help encourage generous responses from others, when we implement the volunteer’s role in a planful, strategic way, we also strengthen the relationship with the volunteer as well.

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Many thanks to Agnes Jamont, Senior Development Officer at Peace Arch Hospital for suggesting this blog topic.  If you have topics you would like to see covered, please don’t hesitate to email me at jmcneal@ggts.com  Onward and Upward!

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