Excerpt from Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift
If you didn't get the gift—and in some instances you won't—there are usually ten "horrid reasons." There may be more, but these are the primary ones.
You may find that it'll take a call or two before you're able to avoid them all. I know in my own solicitations, my immediate instinct was to pull the shades and devote the rest of my life to reading the collected works of Emily Dickinson.
But I soon learned that the mark of a successful and motivated fundraiser is the ability to distinguish a temporary setback from a defeat. I've been blessed with an invincible spirit (you will be, too, if you stick with it).
It's not a matter of whether you get knocked down. You do. It's whether you get up again. And I do. Giving up is the ultimate tragedy. Failure is not the crime—low aspirations are. Here are the ten "Horrid Reasons" to avoid.
1. Didn't Make the Call to Set Up the Visit
You committed the most grievous act of all. You never telephoned to set up the visit. You kept putting it off. Then you stared at the phone. And you stared. You hoped it would ring so you wouldn't have to punch in the number. But it didn't ring. You gathered up your material and walked away. Coward!
2. Inadequate Preparation
You didn't take time to prepare or to know your prospect. And you didn't practice. You thought you could wing it. You went dashing into the session thinking: "I'll make the call and get it over with." You got the kind of results you deserved. George Allen, one of history's greatest football coaches, said that winning can be defined as the science of being totally prepared.
You were nervous, insecure, and uncomfortable. It wasn't an easy visit, and it showed.
Chances are, if you were properly prepared and had practiced, you could have overcome this. There's no reason to be nervous. You know what must be done. You know the drill.
Be at ease. There are those who simply won't be interested in your great cause. That's okay, they have a different agenda. There's nothing you could have done to change their mind. Go on to the next prospect.
4. Assuming Too Much
You called on someone who you felt knew a good bit more about the institution and the project than was actually the case. You jumped to the ask too soon because you assumed too much.
Or you called on someone who had been actively involved in the institution for a period of years. You took for granted she'd be interested in the project.
You felt no need to interpret, to sell the dream, to discuss how important her gift would be. That's what you thought! You asked for the gift too soon—you leaped from step one to step nine. You lose.
5. Failure to Probe
The prospect was nodding in approval, smiling, and throwing off all the positive physical signs during your entire presentation. Even the body language seemed right. You left thinking you'd made the case, made the sale.
But you failed to probe for any concerns, determine whether there were lingering questions. You realize that George Bernard Shaw said it all in the title of his wonderful play, You Never Can Tell. You didn't ask the Four Magic Questions.
If you don't probe, you haven't even begun to make the ask.
6. Poor Listening
You talked too much, you listened too little. You never found out how the prospect felt about the program because you spent all of your time talking. You failed to "listen the gift."
The more attentive you are in listening to others, the more likely they will listen to you. Give your undivided attention to the prospect.
The person asking the questions—that's you—is in control of the conversation. An attorney examining and probing a witness is a prime example. He questions, probes, examines, directs the interrogation and the content of what the judge and jury hear.
The person who listens influences the outcome, not the talker. You are in charge. Listen!
7. Too Much on Features and Not Enough on Benefits
You spent your time going over details and speaking about features (the gymnasium will be regulation size, the new center will have nine conference rooms, the new library can house 40,000 volumes). You pulled out the fancy brochure and reviewed the floor plans. But you failed to notice that the prospect's eyes had glazed over.
You spent too much time talking about money and not enough about the results and outcomes that could be expected from the prospect's investment.
The purpose of your presentation isn't to sell a program or a building. It's to help the prospect to visualize and enter into the world of the end result.
You didn't take enough time talking about how the program would save or change lives. You missed your golden opportunity.
8. Premature Selling
You asked for the gift and made a brilliant close but you didn't take any of the necessary preliminary steps. You hadn't taken time to make the program properly irresistible. You hadn't probed for concerns or asked enough questions and taken time to listen.
You found the prospect nodding in agreement and you took that as a sign that you had finished the job. You raced from first to third base, without touching second.
You spent all of your time talking about how important the program was for the institution and how it would meet its needs. You may have even shown the prospect a Gift Table and talked about the importance of major gifts (as if the prospect would make a sizable gift just because the institution needed it or the campaign would fail without it).
You didn't talk about those who would be served. More important, you didn't talk about how it would benefit the donor. You forgot your organization doesn't have needs. Those you serve have needs, and the gift you seek will help provide the solution.
10. Didn't Ask
The most heinous sin of all—you didn't ask.
You made a brilliant presentation, you asked all the right questions, you probed. You followed every step. It was a glorious session. One small omission—you left before actually asking for the gift. You were so pleased with your performance, you forgot the last act!
In my earlier days I was guilty of the same crime. Actually, in some cases, I was pleased to get out alive without having to make the dreaded ask. I could feel my tongue getting thick, my throat as dry as the Sahara.
If you wait for the perfect time, perfect conditions, the perfect opportunity when everything is just right (and the stars and the moon are in perfect alignment), you'll never ask.
Go ahead, ask for the gift. And take comfort in the fact that it's not the eloquence of your presentation that will determine your success or failure. It's the simple act of asking.
One thing is certain: if you don't ask, you won't get the gift.
© 2002. Excerpted from Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.
Jerold Panas is executive partner of one of America's leading fundraising firms and author of several books, including Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift; The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards: A 59-Minute Guide to Assuring Your Organization's Future; and Making the Case: The No-Nonsense Guide to Writing the Perfect Case Statement.