Making the ask: Is your donor ready or not?

“When you ask for money you are not taking something away; you are giving someone the opportunity to feel good,” explains author and fundraising consultant Laura Fredricks. When you’ve asked your donor when they’re ready, that good feeling can be multiplied. While donor readiness may seem like a foregone conclusion because you’re ready to ask, Fredricks emphasizes there’s more to understanding a donor’s level of readiness. More importantly, if your donor isn’t ready, the likelihood of getting a “yes” is severely diminished.


We recently added Fredricks’ latest edition of The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture (Jossey-Bass, 2014) to our CausePlanet list of recommended reading for nonprofit leaders. Join me in taking a closer look at Fredrick’s “readiness formula.”

When to ask

Fredricks provides the following readiness formula to determine when to ask people: education+involvement+cultivation+inclination+assets=the right time to ask. The larger the gift in question, the more of every element a person needs. Every person may require a different quality and quantity of cultivation, depending on the involvement he seeks and time needed to make his decision.

Fredricks gives several specific suggestions regarding the formula that are worth highlighting here:

1) Effective cultivation often involves interacting with prospects around their hobbies or interests, such as sending a golf article to a golfer.

2) Some prospects want to “giv[e] to a forward-moving train,” or know your organization is transformational and sustainable, whereas some don’t want you to “waste” your money on them and are more distant, so cultivation looks very different for these two types of people.

3) To determine “inclination,” ask this open-ended question: “Laura, when and if you were able to do something that was meaningful and significant to you with our [organization], what would that look like?” Then, you can ascertain whether the prospect is thinking of money at all.

4) Listen to your prospects to determine a match (“matching the person’s key interest in your group with a funding opportunity”).

5) With assets, do not rely solely on prospect research because it may not reveal all assets, and do not mistake assets for inclination. Gather how prospects spend their money through conversations.

Finally, if a person does not possess all the characteristics (e.g., low involvement due to time or personal conflicts or a difficult economic time) it still may be appropriate to ask for money, since this formula is a guideline. Simply use “gentleness, empathy, and understanding.” Ask people how they are doing in an economic downturn, for example, and give them an opportunity to feel good supporting their community. “In very hard times the only thing people can control is their community.” Also, offer to make it easier or give more time for the prospect during a difficult time, while still stressing the importance of your cause.

See also:

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

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