In the last few weeks, I’ve had interesting conversations with people about asking. CEOs who think that asking is a “schpeal” – a precise formula of words that will get the prospect to give generously.

Or that asking is a step by step process so precise that they can let the staff do the relationship work and then just come in toward the end and make a successful ask. (Of course, if the ask is not successful, these leaders feel justified in blaming their staff. Maybe they should: blame their staff for not making them be part of the process!)

I think both perspectives mistakenly think of fundraising as speaking to donors. A process the asker is in complete control of. Something predictable. Orderly.

But that’s not how it works, is it?

What are you hearing?

The problem with that approach is it’s not human. It treats charitable gifts as widgets being sent down an assembly line. Fine-tune the manufacturing process correctly and the right gift comes out. Or you’ll be able to swoop in on the process and scoop up the gift and quickly leave.

That might work…if it weren’t for donors. Donors are human beings with their own lives. Their own thoughts. Their own beliefs.

Fundraising, successful fundraising, takes involving the donor in the process.

No. I’m not talking about shifting all of the nonprofit’s energies and strategy to myopically revolve around a donor as though she were the center of the universe.

That would be completely inappropriate. And would seem odd to the donor. (If it doesn’t, that’s not a kind of donor you want.)

Practice listening

Involving them in the process is just being honest. Without donations, the nonprofit won’t survive. So it only makes sense to listen to donors. To hear what makes them tick. To find out what they enjoy.

To be human with them.

To have a conversation.

Incredibly, asking is more of a conversation than an event. Yes, asking is a huge part of this process. A clear ask for a specific dollar amount is still needed. But after listening to the donor, the ask is not a schpeal. The ask becomes a natural step in the relationship. You still need the right words here. But the “right words” are now a sentence or two rather than a 20-minute presentation. And the right words can now start with: “Exactly because you are so interested in this…” or “Because you are the type of person who loves this…”

Fundraising asks are because you have heard the donor. So you can naturally connect her with something she’s likely to love at your nonprofit.

What questions help you listen?

As you are in your asking conversation, what are some of your favorite questions to ask donors? What questions help you listen to the donor?

Let us know in the comments!

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