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Earning The Right To Make The Ask

Earning The Right To Make The Ask

March 23, 2024
Kathy Gaston

Have you ever stopped to think about what gives you the right to ask someone for a gift to your organization? Having a personal relationship with the individual is a great beginning. Or sharing an inspiring story about how the organization has helped you or someone close to you is the perfect opening to a conversation that leads to making the ask.  

But there are several things you need to know before doing so. For example:

  • How often has this donor been contacted?
  • Who made the last contact?  
  • What excites the donor?  
  • Are there any roadblocks that would prevent him or her from supporting your organization?

I have worked with organizations that have kept good and ongoing relationships with their past donors, and that makes it easier to engage for future projects. When you don’t have that great history behind you, it may take some time to cultivate and renew those donors who once were very supportive.  

How do you build that history with your donors? Invite them in for coffee or lunch to tell (and show) them about the great things you are doing in the community. Invite them to serve on an advisory board or participate in a program where they can share their experiences with a group. Make sure going forward you keep them in the loop with emails, direct mail pieces, Instagram messages, newsletters and videos. Earn that right! 

The important thing is to have the right person make the initial contact. We worked with a group several years ago trying to raise money for a predominantly African American project. In most every interview I conducted, the name Oprah came up when I asked who we should contact to support the project. 

But when asked if anyone had a connection to her, the answer was always no. No one in that group had earned the right to ask Oprah for a gift.  You must have the right person – the person who earned the right – and the right connection to make the introduction. 

I would caution any organization not to focus all your time on new donors at the expense of continuing to cultivate your past donors. This is a mistake often made by educational institutions. Once a student (or their child) graduates, some schools devote their time and attention to new families. Big mistake! Even though people’s philanthropic interests change, your long-time donors are an important part of your history.  

As you develop and maintain these relationships you are creating a stronger bond with your donors. Remember, you must earn the right to ask for the gift – and that means laying the foundation to build that relationship.  


Kathy Gaston

Kathy joined Lighthouse Counsel after 20 years as director of development at The Oak Hill School in Nashville, where she led two successful capital campaigns. She also directed all volunteer activities and shepherded an annual fund campaign that achieved 100 percent parent participation. Kathy is founder of the Nashville Area Development Directors Association, has served on a number of nonprofit boards. She served as board chair for the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee and Lung Association of Tennessee. She has also served as president of Nashville Bar Auxiliary and chair of Lamar Alexander’s Inaugural Ball. She is a popular presenter and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for overall improvement in educational fundraising. Kathy holds a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of North Georgia. Kathy’s favorite quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)