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Scoping Out a Gift Before Asking

Capital campaign consultants can be surprisingly expensive. Therefore, we see many small to mid-sized nonprofits do their best to run a campaign themselves, avoiding the expenses associated with outsourcing. Organizing, writing, and designing seem to be manageable, but the hang-up for self-run campaigns typically happens when it comes time to actually sit with a donor and ask for a specific amount of money.

Years ago, I was hired to train a group of pastors and volunteers with little to no fundraising experience how to make the ask for their church’s campaign. We were tasked with coming up with a gentle but powerful approach to asking for a significant capital campaign gift. Note: this is very similar to asking for a major gift for the first time and assumes some level of relationship with the party with which you are meeting. In this case, the pastors with a representative from the campaign committee would meet one-on-one with high-capacity parishioners. 

What we came up with is still an approach I use today. We called it “If there was a way.” 

You simply ask, “If there was a way… (insert your organization’s impact – the impact most attritive to the donor) would you consider giving.”

What is so powerful with the “if there was a way” approach is it can be used in nearly all fundraising conversations. It is powerful in scoping out a gift before an ask, making the ask itself a lot easier. 

Here are some examples of how to use it in different fundraising contexts: 

Major Gift or Capital Campaign Gift:If there were a proven system for ending generational poverty, would that be something you would consider supporting financially?

Breaking the Ice with a Grant Making Foundation:“If there was a way to graduate inner-city youth from college at the same rate as more privileged students, would that be something your foundation would consider supporting? 

Planned and Structured Giving Conversations:If there was a way to sponsor a student and lower the tax burden from the sale of your business, would you want to hear about it? 

Volunteering:If there was a way to make a difference in a child’s life and it only took one hour of your time each week would you consider volunteering? 

If you feel the ask is not ready just yet, a “yes” just gave you your follow-up! You finish your meeting, go back, and put together a proposal. Then, you meet with the donor the next time and say: “You told me that you would want to here about XYZ, let me show you how it is possible…”

The next time you need to test a donor’s interest or intent, try this approach, and see how it goes. I like this approach because it is a little presumptive and rhetorical, but it does allow the donor to say no. That puts the fundraiser in a situation to recover by asking about what the donor would support and how they determine which causes to support. 

If there was a way for you to test a donor’s interest prior to making a big ask, would you use it? Would you investigate more giving opportunities?


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