blended asks

Do you think a donor wants to be asked for a capital gift in April, a bequest gift in July, and an annual gift in November – all in the same calendar year? No, they don’t. That kind of asking pattern can feel like “nickel and diming” to donors, which is why blended asks are so important. 

But that’s what all too often happens when you silo departments and campaigns:

  • Asking becomes centered on your organization’s processes.
  • Asking hinges on which department gets credit for securing the gift.
  • Asking depends on which campaign gets to include the gift towards reaching their monetary goal. 

This approach is not donor-centered. This makes it particularly ill-suited to major gift fundraising, where donors make their largest gifts when the process brings them joy, autonomy and purpose. 

Cumulative Annual (Year-Round) Asking

I’m not suggesting it isn’t okay to ask more than once throughout the year. It absolutely is, as long as you use common sense. It certainly makes sense for seasonal “add on” campaigns such as GivingTuesday, your own or a local Giving Day, a targeted holiday campaign (e.g., Valentine’s Day, Mothers/Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, etc.), a project-specific campaign, an emergency appeal, a special event, or tribute giving in honor or memory of loved ones. People often make multiple cash gifts, sometimes on impulse, depending on their mood, the strength of your marketing and case for support, and whatever else is going on in the world. In fact, I recommend you add these gifts all up at the end of the year and use the cumulative total for each donor as a base for recognition listings. Give them credit, and gratitude, for the largest gift you can. Why not?

Major, Endowment, Capital And Legacy Asking

When it comes to major gifts the most successful asking is centered on the donor’s needs and interests. Major donors plan how much they want to give to you, whether an outright or deferred gift. They’re going to need to know – in advance of coming to a decision – how much you’re going to ask them to consider giving.

CASE IN POINT: Imagine you’re Martin. You’ve been giving to your local opera company for 10 years at the $10,000 level. You’re loyal and consistent. In April, the board president approaches you for a gift to renovate the opera house rehearsal facility. The capital campaign goal is $1 million. You’re asked to consider a gift 5X your normal gift (a pretty standard ask guideline for capital campaigns). It’s a big leap, but you think about it long and hard, talk to your financial advisor, and decide to make the $50,000 gift. It’s the biggest gift you’ve ever made anywhere; you make it in honor of your parents who passed their love of opera to you. You feel good. 

Then… in July the chairperson of the Endowment Committee asks if you will meet to consider making a gift to the newly established “Fund for the Future.” You tell them you recently committed to a large capital gift. They say “This is different, and separate; we’re hoping all our major donors will also make an endowment gift this year to get this project off the ground.” You say “I’ve already increased my commitment this year by fivefold; I talked to my advisor, and that’s all I can do. If I’d known, I might have split my commitment between these two campaigns.” The chairperson suggests “Why don’t you meet with your advisor again? We’re also accepting planned gifts, and there may be a way you can give a different type of asset that may actually be tax advantageous to you. We’d love to include you as a ‘Founder.’” You think: “I wish I’d known before; now I feel boxed in. Maybe the amount I already committed was a mistake. I like the idea of being a ‘Founder,’ but don’t feel like talking to my advisor again right now.” You feel bad.

Then… in November the major gift officer you’ve worked with in the past asks you to consider an increased annual gift “in honor of your 10-year anniversary of giving.” They wonder if you would like to go up to the $15,000 level, which includes ‘associate producer’ credit for an opera. You like that idea but, again, wish they would have bundled that ask with the capital and endowment campaign asks. You’re beginning to feel they think of you only as an endless money pit, and not as someone who may wish to approach their giving thoughtfully and strategically. You feel conflicted, and a bit sad.

How To Get Started With Blended Asks

To avoid donors having conflicted emotions, and feeling confused as to where you most want them to earmark their giving, there’s a better way than the shotgun approach to asking. It’s called blended, or combined, asking.  Sometimes it may include both an outright and a deferred gift. It’s a great way to raise money for a capital campaign (outright gifts) while simultaneously ensuring the ongoing operations (deferred gift, often through a bequest, designated to endow operations in perpetuity). It’s also a way to gracefully ask for outright gifts for different parallel projects or campaigns.

There are two pre-conditions you must have in place to put blended asks into practice:

  1. Strategic planning and budgeting: Know how much money you need to raise during the course of the year, and for what purposes, so you can develop the strategies most likely to accomplish these ends. If one campaign might impinge upon another, recognize this in advance, and plan accordingly. You can get into trouble if you don’t plan as a whole organization. For example, if annual giving staff have one fundraising plan, the planned giving department has another, and the executive director hires capital campaign counsel to develop still another, you’re likely going to be stepping on each other’s feet.
  2. A culture of philanthropy: In a culture of philanthropy, everyone has everybody’s back. Departments don’t compete over donors. For example, things can get really crazy when:
    • In hospitals and universities, different schools or departments have separate development staff. 
    • Annual campaign and planned giving departments are siloed. 
    • National organizations with local chapters message donors through overlapping, yet separate, appeals. 

These uncoordinated approaches can be really confusing to the donor, and downright annoying if they’re asked by the right hand to give when the left hand just closed a gift from them! Consider what might transpire if the School of Podiatry says to the School of Neurology: “This year we’re running a capital campaign, so you can’t ask Donor Y for an upgraded annual gift because we’re going to ask them to give a capital gift.” The donor, who cares about both programs, may be irritated if not offered the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to designate their philanthropy. If, instead, one person at the hospital were to approach Donor Y for a combined annual and capital gift, covering both their areas of interest, the organization as a whole would come out ahead – today and in the future.

Don’t Ask Major Donors For Gifts Without A Strategy

Donors think holistically about their commitment to you. They want to make a difference and they only have so much money to give.

In your role as philanthropy facilitator you can help them figure out ways to give more than they may have thought. But you want to do this in the context of being helpful to them; not within the context of “if you don’t say yes to every ask, or give to the exact program or campaign we’ve decided you should give to, you’re not a ‘good donor’ in our eyes.”

Don’t make your loyal major donor have to say “no.” 

They don’t want to, and it makes them feel bad.

Channel The Storytelling Mode Of “Once Upon A Time” 

You’re in the happiness delivery business, not the “let us hit you up again” business. Plan your campaigns at least a year in advance (with the exception of emergencies) so you can ask once, not twice, thrice or more. 

When you ask your donor to jump into their role as the hero who gives your story the happy ending, they need to know all the preceding chapters to make their best move.

If this year your story will include any combination of annual, capital, endowment, legacy or any major campaign ‘chapter,’ prepare to make one blended ask of your donor. 

This will make you look good; it will make your donor feel good.

And that’s when donors make their most passionate gifts.

Download this Culture of Philanthropy Checklist loaded with action tips to determine if your nonprofit has one in place, and how to get started with adopting a culture of philanthropy.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.