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The Ask Can Go Sideways In A Hurry

You’ve thought the question over a thousand times in your mind, walked over, summoned the courage to ask, and got shot down. All of a sudden, you’re a pubescent again, rejected at the school dance.

It might have seemed like the end of the world in middle school, but rejection is something fundraisers have to roll with when approaching major donors and a strong reply can pay dividends.

In their session, “Major Gifts Pop-Up Coaching: The Art of the Ask” at Fundraising Day in New York 2017, Robert Budelman III, executive director of individual giving at Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation; Eileen Heltzer, development officer for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey; Stacy Wilson Margolis, chief development officer for City Parks Foundation; Ragan Rhyne, vice president of development for ProPublica, Paula K. Stein, director of development for Randalls Island Park Alliance; and David Mehr and Griffin O’Shea, senior directors of CCS Fundraising walked attendees through how best to respond to various responses.

    They included the following five ideas:

  • They want to help, but need more time. Show appreciation that important decisions like this take time. Tell them to think it over and arrange an opportunity a week or so down the line to get together, discuss, and come to a final decision. Ask if any additional information is needed in the interim;
  • They want to know why you think they have that kind of money. Let them know that you had no idea whether they would be willing to make a gift of that particular size, but that — as one of the organization’s leaders — it was important to the organization to come to them first;
  • They think you’ve asked for too much. Let them know that you hope that they consider such a request as a compliment and the goal was to make them one of the first to hear about the new opportunity at the organization. Recognize the ambition of your goal and explain that the organization is asking close partners to make stretch gifts at this time;
  • They can’t give the amount that you asked for, but they will write a check for a fraction of that sum. Try to take some pressure off by telling them that a decision isn’t necessary right away. Ask them to think about the ask and talk it over with you again in about a week. Also discuss how large gifts can be spread over a number of years; and,
  • They can’t support the campaign at all. Thank them for meeting with you and tell them that you understand their current position. Let them know that you’ll continue to meet with donors for the campaign. Ask them to consider your organization if their situation should change, and thank them for their previous participation.

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