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Best Practices: 10 Ways to Blow the Ask
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Oct. 16, 2009

Ten Ways to Blow the Ask

Marija Pientka, Associate Athletic Director for Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison

If you've been in this profession for long, you've probably stumbled your way through an ask or two - but certainly learned your lesson and improved for the next time.

So prior to your next prospect meeting, check to see if you're committing any of these common mistakes before you blow the ask.

Mistake No. 1: You don't present the `right' project.

We've all been there. The athletic director sets a `priority' and there's pressure to meet the fundraising goal.

This might seem obvious, but you must do your homework on every prospect to ensure the project you're presenting really speaks to that individual. If a prospect gets excited about programmatic support, presenting a bricks and mortar facility project - even if it's the priority of your athletic department - can really be off-putting to the prospect. It shows you haven't taken the time to get to know him or her. Be sure the project you're presenting is something the prospect has a genuine interest in, and you'll be much more likely to secure a commitment.

Mistake No. 2: You don't ask for the right amount.

Asking for the right amount is just as important as finding the right project. Prospects rarely get offended if you ask for too much - most people are flattered that you think they're capable of such a gift. And a high ask can raise someone's sights. But asking for too little shows you haven't prepared properly, which can derail the development process.

Mistake No. 3: You didn't sufficiently prepare the prospect for the ask.

No one likes to be caught off-guard by someone making an unexpected request - and that goes double for solicitations.

Be sure to lead your prospect to a point where they know you're going to ask for a significant gift. Make sure they're ready to seriously consider such a request. When the time for the solicitation comes, you might not even have to ask for the gift; the prospect will understand why you are there, what size gift you are seeking and what the gift will support.


 

 

Mistake No. 4: You exclude important people from the ask.

Although you might be more comfortable making an ask during a one-on-one meeting - less of an audience, right?!? - be sure you don't exclude an individual(s) who might play an important role in the donor's decision making process.

Does your prospect consult with a spouse, an attorney, or an accountant? If so, ask if that individual might be included in the meeting. It can be very frustrating to finish a solicitation only to learn that the person(s) who'll be part of the decision were not present.

Mistake No. 5: You "wing it" during the solicitation meeting.

When you, your athletic director, and the prospect get together and start talking, you hope the ask might just `naturally' happen. But there's a good chance it won't, especially if the dollar amount is very significant.

Before the meeting, be sure to map out a plan for how the conversation will unfold. Determine in advance who will state the need, put the ask on the table and outline next steps at the end of the meeting.

Mistake No. 6: You waffle when making the ask.

You've put a great deal of time and energy into developing a positive relationship with the prospect. When the time has come for an ask, don't back down. If you don't ask, they won't give.

Think of it this way: you're offering the prospect an opportunity to invest in your program. Prospects often appreciate having interesting ideas brought to them for their consideration. So move forward with confidence and conviction - seasoned with humility - and you'll see positive results.

Mistake No. 7: You stick blindly to your agenda.

Despite your best preparations, sometimes the ask meeting will veer in an unexpected direction. If you're thrown a curve ball, be flexible and try to salvage the meeting as best you can.

But don't be so determined that you steam roll past the issue at hand, potentially offending your prospect and damaging the chance of a gift in the future. If you can't get back on track, you might say to the prospect, "You know, I came here today to discuss a significant commitment to the athletic department. Why don't I address (the immediate concern) today, and then we can schedule a time to talk further about the campaign."

Mistake No. 8: You pressure the donor for a commitment.

When you make an ask, know when to stop talking and patiently wait for a response. Your prospects are successful, educated people. They gather information, process it, and make careful decisions. When you ask for a significant investment in your institution, they're going to need time to think it over.

If you insist on walking out the door with a signed pledge agreement, you may find yourself leaving empty handed. Instead, put a proposal on the table and give the prospect time to mull it over. This approach might even yield a greater gift than one he or she can agree upon immediately.

Mistake No. 9: You promise donors things you can't deliver.

It's easy to get carried away when describing the recognition or special treatment a donor might receive in appreciation for a gift. If you can't get the donor on the team plane for the Rose Bowl, don't offer it. It's better to under promise and over deliver.

Mistake No. 10: You announce the gift prematurely.

You've just received a commitment and you're bursting with excitement! But be sure everything is in place before you announce the gift, lest the news travel back to the prospect prematurely. This could not only upset them and jeopardize their commitment, but it could also create a problem for the campus if for some reason the gift does materialize.

If you avoid these common pitfalls, you can look forward to success in your future solicitations. Good luck!