Hiring the 25%

One of the least-discussed, but germane mysteries of our advancement profession is the fact that too many gift officers shy away from asking prospective donors for specific gifts.  I’m not suggesting that gift officers are not receiving gifts.  But just about every institution I’ve worked with has someone (or more than 1) on the team who isn’t comfortable looking prospects in the eye and asking them to stretch their giving.  So, while gifts may be flowing, there is little question that many gift officers leave significant amounts of charitable gift income on the table because the ask was made neither confidently nor specifically.

Enter a recent study by www.creditcards.com that reported, among other things, two incredibly interesting findings:

  1. When credit card customers call the credit card company to ask for a reduction of a late fee or even to ask for a reduction or complete waiver of the annual fee, they are successful 84% of the time; and,
  2. Only 25% of all credit card customers will call to ask for such fee reductions or waivers.

Let those two data points sink in for a moment:  If we simply make a call and ask to save money, we have an 84% chance that the credit card company will agree to our request.  However, even when it squarely and directly impacts our personal financial well-being, only 25% of us will ask!

With so many people in the population who demur at asking for their own financial gain, is it any wonder that we sometimes hire gift officers who may not be as bold and confident about asking others to support an institutional mission?  If only 25% of us are bold enough to ask for something that is completely in our self interest, it should not be a surprise that gift officers sometimes struggle to ask confidently for another entity – even when that entity is paying them to do so.   Culturally-speaking, we have an asking problem.

Here is a suggestion:  The next time you are hiring for a gift officer, devise a question or a set of questions that focus on having them explain their experience with asking for a rebate, refund, a fee reduction, or some other kind of “deal.”  Perhaps it is a question involving the credit card scenario and asking for an annual fee reduction.  Or, perhaps it is a question focused on how they handled a situation in which the service or product they purchased wasn’t up to expectations.  What did they do?  How might they handle such an interaction?

Apparently a strikingly small percentage of folks (25%) are willing to simply ask – even when it is clearly in their interests to do so.  My advice is to do everything you can to find those 25% when you are hiring a gift officer.  Employing such interviewing strategies won’t guarantee hiring success, of course.  But they will give you a window into how confident prospective gift officers are about simply asking.


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