It’s quite common for advancement professionals and volunteers to want the “silver bullet language” around asking for gifts. Surely there must be phrases, individual words, and conversation transitions which, when deftly strung together, will unlock the giving motivations in humans.
There must be a process, a formula, a blueprint that makes the asking easier and more winsome.
There are no such language conventions or processes, of course. But this fact doesn’t preclude people from continuing to search for them.
It’s similar to the folks who spend their lives searching for Bigfoot. They, too, are seeking a grand illusion. All the while convincing themselves that when they do find it, big questions finally will be answered!
The most helpful advice I can offer to those seeking the perfect ask language is to instead (and first) address 3 specific questions:
- No matter the gift amount being considered, do you believe the goal of the conversation is to convince someone to give you money?
- Are you concerned that their generous past support will be a roadblock to their considering this gift because, perhaps, they have already “done their part”?
- Are you uneasy about asking because they “just might not be able to give?”
If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you will want to reconsider how you are approaching this work before inviting others to join you in giving.
Becoming more adept at asking for gifts starts with a thoughtful examination of our own deeply-held assumptions about the nature of giving and generosity.
“Gift giving” is never about the gift. It’s about the giving. Our role isn’t to convince someone to let go of an asset. It’s to invite them to experience the joy that only generosity brings.
A donor’s past generous support actually is a fantastic predictor of future giving – if the invitation aligns with the donor’s values and helps to advance an inspiring vision for the future. Donors don’t get tired of giving, they grow weary of sterile, dull, and institution-centered requests.
And, whatever we think we might know about the financial circumstances of the donor probably includes some inaccuracies – perhaps significant inaccuracies. Spending time assuming their response isn’t productive. Inviting their support with enthusiasm is our responsibility. Responding to our invitation is theirs.
Being part of the philanthropic process is never about finding the most persuasive language. It is never about the money. It’s not even about the asking.
Authentic philanthropy emerges when we believe that our role is to spread the good message that giving is the most compelling expression of love, compassion, and hope in action.
When we first happily embrace the mindset that giving brings joy and that our role is to invite more people to experience that joy, we become the most effective “askers.”
And we learn that continuing the search for Bigfoot isn’t productive.