3 Questions To Help Avoid “Ask Fever”

Within the U.S. space industry, the term “go fever,” refers to the general idea that engineering teams sometimes rush to get a project completed or a program implemented without taking the appropriate time to assess problems or concerns.  “Go fever,” was identified as a contributing factor in both the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986) and Space Shuttle Columbia (2003) disasters.  When the urgent push to reach the goal becomes overwhelming, even the best, most thoughtful people can make significant errors in judgment.

In a similar vein (but lacking the same tragic outcomes), there can be times when advancement professionals, volunteers, presidents, etc., are stricken with a case of “ask fever.”  “Ask fever” occurs when there is mounting interpersonal or institutional pressure to ask a specific donor for a significant gift before enough information and/or donor engagement has occurred.  The sense is that if the ask doesn’t occur soon and with success, a key opportunity may be missed.  Or, worse, a campaign or project goal might not be achieved.

To relieve the conditions of “ask fever,” the wise advancement leader will ask herself these 3 questions:

  1. Do we have a clear sense of the donor’s financial capacity to make the gift we are inviting them to make?  If you cannot articulate a range of gift the donor can make based on previous discussions with the donor, independent research, or other reliable sources, you may be rushing the invitation to make a gift.
  2. Do we have a definite understanding of the donor’s interest in our mission and/or program?  If you cannot articulate a specific area of support (inclusive of “unrestrictive”), that this donor is enthusiastically willing to support, you may be rushing the invitation to make a gift.
  3. Are we certain that the timing is right for the donor to make this commitment?  If you cannot articulate the window of gift fulfillment that would make sense for this donor, based on previous discussions with the donor or other reliable sources, you may be rushing the invitation to make a gift.

Answering the above 3 questions with affirming responses means that you run a much lower risk of having “ask fever” cause a significant donor miscue.

There is, indeed, a great deal of urgency built into our work to raise needed funds for important missions and causes.  But do not let a projected sense of urgency or other pressures cause you to ask for the wrong amount, or for the wrong purpose, or at the wrong time.  Instead, ask questions of the donor which provide you with a better understanding of  his interests, his level of enthusiasm for giving now, and his capacity make the gift you might seek.

The terrible lessons of “go fever” are sad but instructive – it can be exceptionally difficult to recover from a gift discussion that was forced too soon by “ask fever.”


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