Overcoming the Anxieties of Asking for a Donation

Fear of asking for a donationI have been a solicitor of major gifts for more than forty years. Moreover, I have trained both volunteers and professionals around the country in the art of asking for a donation, or what my friend and mentor, Jerry Panas, calls “truly outrageous, consequential gifts.”

One of the techniques that I employ at the very beginning of every session is to ask each participant to write down on a blank piece of paper an answer to the following question. “Visualize yourself face to face with a major gift prospect. You have just asked that person to consider a very substantial gift to your organization. As you sit in the ensuing silence, what is your single greatest fear?”

Once my “students” have written down their answers, I ask them to crumple up the piece of paper and throw it away. Actually, I walk around with a waste paper basket and collect their freshly discarded anxieties. I have catalogued these trepidations for a long time. The results of my informal research–and my prescriptions for overcoming these anxieties of asking have yielded the following curious results. With more than a thousand participants, I identified twenty-one basic responses.

People were concerned about not knowing whom to ask and when finally in the person’s presence, not knowing enough about the prospect. In major gifts’ work, as in all fundraising, it is essential to know your donor. Indeed, the “whom to ask” question comes from someone who does not understand that your next major donor is most likely someone who has been supporting you regularly for sometime already.

Some worried about wasting their time. Better they should be concerned about wasting the prospective donor’s time. Others were worried that they might not be the right person or that asking someone for money would somehow affect their personal relationship or worse, will turn the prospect off so that they will want nothing to do with the organization ever again. It is always possible that you are not the right person to do the solicitation. In fact, matching the prospect with the right solicitor or, better still, soliciting team, is one of the critical preliminary steps to any solicitation. But, if you are the “right” person (which often means you are the only person who will do the ask), then, be not afraid.

Truly, people do not like to talk about money–particularly their own–and especially giving it away. Rather, get them to share your dream and make it their own. Give the prospect the sense that they can make a difference. Then you are not “taking” anything from them. You are “giving” them one of the great opportunities of their lives. Never discount, the great joy of giving.

Then, there is the category of concern that comes under the heading of “fear of failure.” This might as easily be characterized as a fear of success. One person stated, “I am afraid that the donor will ask a question that I cannot answer.” Others said they feared that they would “blow the opportunity,” or that they would make a mistake when asking for a donation. Another was afraid that they would be nervous or that they might panic.

You should not fear “objections” that the donor might raise. If you really want to be afraid of something, fear silence. The donor who is objecting to something–and-asking a question is a form of objection–is saying, “tell me more. I am not convinced yet. I want more information than you have provided.” Learn to love objections. Your prospect is giving you a golden opportunity to make your case in direct response to something that interests them. First, seek clarification from your prospect so you understand the question. Second, acknowledge that you have heard what they have said. Third, resume making the case in the language the prospect can best understand. Then, you will have no reason to be nervous or panic. You cannot blow the presentation when you are answering your prospect’s question. As long as you are listening you cannot make a mistake.

The last and most prevalent fear of any solicitor–professional or volunteer–is the fear of rejection. It comes in many forms. The hard part is to understand that the rejection is never personal. Also, if you are gently persistent you can generally overcome the “no.” In the context of a fundraising solicitation, “no” rarely means “no, not ever,” but rather, “no, not yet.” Statistics show that 92% of all solicitors give up after they have heard any where from one to four objections or “no’s.” 73% of all donors offer five objections or more. Be among the eight per cent of the “askers” who are still asking the three quarters of all donors who want to give, but need you to help them share the dream. That is the art of soliciting.

Considering a campaign? You may want to read

The Nonprofit Leaders Guide to a Capital Campaign Vol. 1 of 12

Be Thankful for the Gift and Move On

Note: this post was originally published in 2005