In the U.S. space industry the term “go fever,” refers to project teams making rushed decisions while “overlooking potential problems or mistakes.” The reasons that “go fever” can grip a team can range from budget pressures to individuals not wanting to be viewed as the person who slowed progress or questioned authority. This concept has been cited as part of the cause behind such disasters as the Space Shuttle Challenger break-up in 1986.
Similar to “go fever,” I would suggest that leaders at some institutions experience “ask fever” — or the rush to solicit donors or prospective donors for a major gift while “overlooking potential problems or mistakes” of moving too quickly. “Ask fever,” may be driven by budgetary pressures or a general misunderstanding on the part of an institutional leader that major gift solicitations are not transactional tasks that can simply be checked-off one’s to-do list.
The full problematic impact of “ask fever,” is not so much that the institution almost never receives the best possible gift when the fever strikes its leaders. Instead, when leaders give in to “ask fever,” the biggest loss is the loss of donor engagement – and in many instances, that loss is long-term or permanent.
The reason that forgoing donor engagement is such a costly error is because giving follows involvement, volunteers give more than non-volunteers, and donors with more than one meaningful connection to your institution give more than less-connected donors. Donor engagement, the research suggests to us, is the archway through which the best possible gifts flow.
If you find yourself or others in your institution coming down with a bad case of “ask fever,” go ahead and ask the donor prospect – but instead of asking for the gift, ask them for their advice and perspective. Ask them to get involved more deeply and more meaningfully in your mission. You may find that the gift that follows that ask is much larger than you could have imagined.