What is the most often overlooked element of the Ask?
Despite the immense amount of focus we place on understanding the art of asking for support, it continues to keep us treading water and occasionally dipping our heads below the surface. The Ask author, Laura Fredricks, would argue one of the most commonly overlooked elements of the Ask is follow-up—yes, follow-up. Many fundraisers don’t realize that the preparation for and conducting the Ask is 25 percent of the process and follow-up is 75 percent!
Fredricks stresses there is a real method, organization and key sequence of steps to take before, during and after the solicitation. Ask yourself if your fundraising prospects are experiencing consistent cultivation, presentation and follow-up that address your organizational needs.
After the Ask, you do not want to give your prospect unlimited space and time and let her contact you because you need to have a system and timeline after all the cultivation work you’ve done.
- Thank the person immediately after you have discussed and addressed the response.
- Convey to the person asked the importance of her decision, the impact it will have, and the reason why it is important to make the gift or investment or decision now as opposed to later (e.g., numbers of people affected). This should relate urgency, not desperation, and should not make people feel guilty. Just lay out the facts of where you are and where you need to be.
- Set a time and date when you are going to follow up with the Ask.
- Send a personal thank-you for meeting with you and taking the time to consider the Ask.
- Call the person the next day and thank him for meeting with you. Ask if he needs any additional information or would want to meet with anyone else in the organization to help make his decision.
- Immediately send any additional information requested or data, budgets or testimonials that might be helpful.
- Mix up the communication and the communicator to vary who contacts the person and what s/he says.
- Tell the person about any new gifts that have occurred while he is deciding to convey strength in numbers.
- Try to get the person to come to the organization to meet with your beneficiaries or see a new program.
- Stay positive throughout the entire follow-up process and treat the person as if she is going to say “yes.”
Not following up will waste all your research and cultivation time. So, it is necessary to pick a comfortable number of prospects to work with and develop a system to track everything. Fredricks provides a chart with the following columns to help: name, research, cultivation, pre-Ask conversation, Ask response, follow-up and stewardship. Since follow-up should take 75 percent of your time, as compared to 25 percent of your time dedicated to preparation and the Ask, your column under follow-up should be longer and filled with more activities and points of contact.
You can see if you are treating your prospects evenly with this chart and whether people are bottlenecking at certain stages, such as cultivation, and you need to move them along. Also, everyone involved in the Ask needs to have the time to follow up. If you cannot complete your follow-up, you need to cut out the people you are asking to focus on this more. Finally, the author gives you some trouble-shooting tips that help with situations that involve difficulty reaching the person asked, length of time you should wait (a few months is a long time; a year is unreasonable), a transfer of the decision to family members or an advisor, and more.
CausePlanet: There is a surprising lack of literature about the importance of follow-up in donor solicitations. We’re delighted to see you’ve addressed it in your book. What are some important reminders for nonprofit leaders that might motivate them to place a priority on this area?
Laura Fredricks: You are leaving $$$$ on the table because you do not have solid steps to close it. My BIGGEST tip: Donors leave clues and we miss every one of them. Pay attention to how they communicate and the frequency with which they communicate and follow up on their patterns.
Consider your Ask follow-up as part of your pre-solicitation plan. Determine how you’ll keep your prospect engaged with your organization long after they say “yes” or “no.” Learn more about Laura Fredricks’ guidance for the entire Ask process in her book where you can determine how to select the right people at the right time and in the right location to make the Ask. You can also gather solutions to a myriad of responses to the Ask through sample dialogs and apply the author’s guidance on the crucial business of follow-up.
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