It’s common for board members and other volunteers (and some development professionals) to ask the question: “What is the best way to ask someone for a gift?” What they are looking for, of course, are the “magic words.” The words or phrases that, when uttered with confidence and enthusiasm, wondrously unlock a donor’s generous spirit and opens her checkbook. Unfortunately, of course, no single word or phrase exists. However, there are phrases, words, and questions, that effective fundraisers say again and again that strengthen relationships and encourage prospective donors to respond with generosity. Below, in no particular order, are the most effective utterances:
- “What do you think about. . .?” Asking for their advice, their insights, their observations, is a staple in the effective fundraiser’s communication tool box. The effective fundraiser knows that giving follows from other forms of engagement. When we ask others for their advice or perspective, we are bringing them closer to us.
- “I think you might be interested in . . .” Instead of viewing a gift as a “sales job,” the effective fundraiser understands that donors give to satisfy their own needs not the institution’s. Therefore, the effective fundraiser proposes gift ideas by framing them in terms that relate to the donor’s needs, values, or interests.
- “I’m going to be in your area . . .” Most donors like to feel special – but not too special. For many donors, if they believe you are traveling to their home or business just to see them, they feel pressured. You must be coming to ask me for a gift, they suppose. Instead, effective fundraisers put prospective donors at ease by lessening the pressure. Since the development officer is “going to be in the area” anyway, the donor is more likely to easily accept the visit invitation.
- “What do you really want to accomplish through your giving?” Effective fundraisers elevate the gift conversation from the myopic, the specific to the grand and important. They understand that donors really want to do important things with their giving and with their lives and they regularly tap into that core desire. When you access the fundamental drivers to an individual’s giving, you create enthusiasm and a context in which larger gifts are possible.
- “How have we stewarded your giving?” Rarely, if ever, do sub-par development professionals ask about a donor’s giving experience. A hallmark of an exceptional fundraiser is asking questions about how the institution can better serve them. It’s the best practice in donor service.
If you work these questions and phrases into your regular interactions with donors and prospective donors, you won’t be assured that giving will increase immediately. However, by paying attention to how you communicate with donors and prospects over time, you will be a much more effective fundraiser.