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[ASK AN EXPERT] How to Assess When a Major Donor is Ready (or Not Ready) to Be Asked.

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Dear Charity Clairity,

I have two related questions about determining when a donor is ready to be asked for a major gift. The first is wondering if there’s a quicker way to get folks ready than going through 18 months of “moves management.” We need money now! The other is when to put a hold on the process because of life events. For example, I have a donor I was about to ask, but he just lost his spouse. I don’t want to lose his gift, but I’m afraid this isn’t the right time to ask. What do I do?
— Not Ready for Prime Time?

Dear Not Ready for Prime Time,

As your questions suggest, successful major gift fundraising is nothing more (or less) than building and nurturing relationships between (1) individuals who share the values your organization enacts and (2) your organization effectively enacting those values through your mission. And, this process proceeds along a continuum–from awareness… to interest… to education… to involvement… to investment.

Readiness to be asked to invest depends on where your major donor prospect is now. With a brand-new prospect–who perhaps someone suggested as a board member referral–you’re starting more or less from scratch. But, with someone who’s been giving to you consistently for a period of years, they’re already aware, educated, involved, and even invested–just not quite at the level you’d hope for.

Let’s begin with your first question about how long the process of moves management takes. What you’re after with “moves” and “touches” is getting your donors to the point of active, passionate commitment. So, here’s a little “cheat” I use to assess whether a given donor prospect is at this point. Ask yourself: Would this person answer “true” to one or more of the following three statements (more yesses = larger gift):

  • I am loyal to this charity
  • I am a committed donor
  • This is my favorite charity

The other “hack” is to use the seven key drivers of donor commitment discovered by leading expert on donor retention, Dr. Adrian Sargeant. These include:

  1. Trust
  2. A personal link to you
  3. Your performance in accomplishing your mission
  4. Multiple engagements
  5. Choice of and quality of communications
  6. Shared beliefs
  7. A tangible link to the beneficiaries of the donor’s gift and your services

Sometimes a donor engagement survey can help you assess how well you’re doing based on these. You can actually ask your donors to respond true or false to the three statements. Or you can ask them to rank order how they feel or list how they feel on a scale of one to five. Here’s a bunch of questions you can ask. Bonus: the very act of sending the survey and asking for feedback is a “move.”

Let’s transition to your second question about the widower who likely would say “yes” right now to all three donor loyalty, value and preference questions. That is, if he wasn’t distracted by grief. But, wait. Who’s to say he doesn’t want to hear from you now? Maybe he’d welcome a distraction or, more to the point, a connection.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s this: Don’t look for excuses not to make your next ask or move. Don’t presume on behalf of your donor-prospects. This may be precisely the time your widower would love to have someone reach out. You can be sensitive when you approach him. If he’s not ready, he’ll tell you.

Keep in mind your moves management plan is designed to get your donor to the point of readiness. It’s your job to stay on top of this, understanding there’s no one-size-fits-all cultivation plan. Sure, sometimes things outside your control happen to derail the process. They just don’t change your donor’s trajectory near as often as you’d like to pretend they do. Most people love an invitation. If they’re too distracted or too busy to accept, they can decline. At least you’ve shown them you were thinking of them. Courage!

Here’s hoping this helps you feel in your prime,

— Charity Clairity

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