Ask First?

My friend and colleague, Debbie Cannon, marketing genius and, along with Vici Nagel, the muscle that makes the Academy for Grass Roots Organizations  in the Inland Empire l so strong, recently asked whether I thought it was best to first tell a potential funder or supporter about why there is a good fit and then ask for the donation or to ask first and then explain about the fit.

Great question.  And one where that definitive answer works:  It depends.

As with everything, context is all.  So yes—when you make the appointment or make that first touch, you must give the prospect some indication of why you are doing so.

If you are using someone to open a door, you could say “Joe thought we should meet,” but I think it is better to say “Joe thought we should meet as he thinks you would be interested in……”  On the other hand, if the prospect is a regular supporter, the ask might come first:  “Hi Sally, I want to get together to talk about this year’s donation/sponsorship.”

To me, the best thing is to start with a conversation.  Give them just enough information to open the door to a discussion (which means they are answering open-ended questions and telling you things you need to know).

You may think you know why there is a good fit:  Local Bank—we can get your name up in front of the very people you want to be serving.  But a conversation may (also) tell you that the bank manager—who controls the money—also has a sister who is homeless, a kid who is special needs, whatever OR is best friends with your board chair and these reasons will get you either the gift or a larger gift.

For individual donors, it is even more important to ask first—not for the gift but why they care and what they want to accomplish with their gift.

It’s an overused phrase but “one size does NOT fit all,” and I think the best fundraising happens when we are donor-centric and pay attention to what the donor needs at the time and how we can best serve those needs.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and become more donor centric.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting or email her at and ask for a free, 30-minute consultation.



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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