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The Ask

The Ask

August 25, 2019
David Snow

The “ask” is at the core of our work as development professionals. It is the critical moment of transforming a prospect into a donor. The ask is actual shorthand for the respectful invitation to a cultivated prospect to invest in the mission of the organization. It is the mid-point in our relationship cycle: identification, cultivation, ask, appreciation, stewardship.

If we have learned of the donor’s interests and desires and have properly informed the prospect regarding the mission and work of the organization during the identification and cultivation phases, then actual solicitation (the ask) flows naturally in the cycle. From listening to the donor, as well as research, we should be able to craft a strategy necessary for the prospect transformation to occur. While we have been sharing the story of our organization, we also should have been listening so that we know what the right project or phase of the project is, the right level of support, the right timing, the right setting, the right people in the room, the right final story, etc. for the ask to occur.

Actual solicitation should be kept simple. As always, we express our appreciation to the donor for his or her time and ask if they have any questions based on the prior meetings or information we have previously provided. We then briefly share our passion, we review the case and we stress how they can create a positive outcome. The ask should follow a simple format such as: 

On behalf of the _____ (name the future beneficiaries of the project – children, patients, campers, etc.), would you consider an investment of _____ (specific amount) for ________ (specific aspect or phase of the project). 

You may include certain terms (an amount per year for ___ years) or for a naming opportunity. However, keep the ask simple. After you have made the request, be quiet. Do not negotiate the request down before the potential donor has even spoken. 

If more than one person is to be part of the ask, then you need to make sure each person understands the part they will play – and you need to practice. You should prepare in advance your response to each of the possible outcomes of the request.

Since we did our preparation and are asking the donor for a meaningful and possible stretch gift, a likely outcome is a maybe. It may be possible to resolve the hesitation at this time if it involves things such as the terms. If the prospect suggests a lower amount, you may want them to reconsider. This can be done respectfully by acknowledging your appreciation for their generosity, and asking them to take some time and consider the original request with something such as: 

While we appreciate your generous offer, there is a limited number of donors in our community and we really need those that can to step up and provide the needed leadership if this project is to be successful. Would you take some time and think about our original request? 

We also need to recognize the difference between a hard no (not now, not ever) and a soft no (not the right time, wrong amount, wrong project, etc.). The soft no means that you will need to continue the cultivation efforts as you address the reasons behind it. 

While many individuals are initially hesitant to make an ask, there is great joy for both the solicitor and the donor when a yes is received and the mission of the organization is advanced.


David Snow

David brings more than four decades of experience in executive and development leadership in healthcare, education and social services. He is an expert in annual support campaigns and endowment development strategy, with the unique perspective of a staff member, a volunteer and a major donor. Most recently, David served as chief development officer of the YMCA of Greater Houston for 10 years, doubling its annual campaign to nearly $8 million, significantly growing the endowment and leading $50 million in capital campaigns. He previously led institutional advancement at The Dominican Campus (Aquinas College, St. Cecilia Academy and Overbrook School) in Nashville, Tennessee, where he led three successful capital campaigns to fund campus expansions. Prior to his development career, David was a healthcare executive for more than 20 years, during which time he was involved as a volunteer on a number of nonprofit boards and deeply involved in their fundraising efforts. David currently serves on the board of John Paul II Preparatory School, the Advancement Committee for Aquinas College and the Development Committee of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves on the capital campaign cabinet of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, Black Mountain, NC. David is a graduate of Indiana University. David’s favorite quote: “The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.” —Mary Ritter Beard