Mastering The Ask = Transforming Your Institution

It was early in 1990’s when I was attending one of my first CASE/NAIS conferences. Like a lot of new folks I wasn’t sure which session to attend, but at that conference I figured out the trick that I would use the next decade to get the most possible out of those few professional development days.

This particular session was being led by a fundraising consultant and it was on major gifts. The session quickly shifted from the usual broad brush strokes on the topic to the specifics of sitting with someone and asking them for their support and for a specific amount.

I remember sitting in the front row and being absolutely amazed at the consultant’s comfort, confidence and ability to move a role-playing prospect comfortably through a conversation about money. I knew then I had to master this talent if I was to be of the greatest value to my institution. 

 Over the next several weeks I remember  writing scripts and practicing them so I was prepared to get on the phone, meet people and ask that they support the annual fund at a specific level. The first few calls went great,  but then I experienced several pushback’s and objections because of different reasons.  I wasn’t prepared, yet, for those conversations. It didn’t feel good sitting there not knowing what I should say. Those experiences taught me the importance of preparation, practice and the power of knowing your lines. 

Looking back now, to that experience almost two decades ago, it was those objections that gave me the tools to design scripts that would help manage those moments with any prospect. Now after making thousands of annual fund solicitations I’ve learned that objections fall fairly neatly into three categories. I have prepared scripts and training to address each type of objection. 

After designing the language for all ask scenarios and implementing the scripts I remember our annual fund growing over 30% annually for the next four years. It changed the relationship between the development office and the Board of Trustees, in the sense that their confidence grew in our ability and capacity. That in turn gave the board confidence to head into a significant capital initiative. My relationship with the head of school became stronger and our confidence in what we could accomplish together grew. 

 Walt Disney’s is famous for saying “it it all started with a mouse”. In independent school philanthropy everything starts with successfully extending an investment invitation to a prospect.  I’ve learned that real possibility begins with them saying yes. The significance of their impact lives within the richness of the giving experience that your institution creates. But that is a follow up post

 So start at the beginning. Learn how to ask and teach your key leaders. 

If you would like a free copy of one of the scripts for handling objections you can get it here.


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