The Most Effective Ask

I listen to a lot of podcasts—it’s what I do at the gym.  And at the top of many of them there is a request for support.  “Umm,” I always think as I am on the treadmill or lifting weights, “I should do that.”  And then I continue exercising and forget all about it until the next time I’m listening and there is a specific ask. I’m also guilty of reading direct mail and thinking, “Sure, I’ll write a check,” then putting the paperwork  in my office….and forgetting about it until my yearly clean-out.  Phonathons have much the same effect.  Too often I say yes, but if no one follows up (and I cannot believe how often that occurs) my good intentions go out the door.

The point is not that I am a bad person.  It is that there is a reason that face-to-face asks are at the top of the ladder of effective solicitation.  The closer you are to a person, the more you can gauge where they are, how motivated and how much more you need to do to get them to make that gift.

It’s why big gifts are generally gotten by one person asking another person up close and personal.  And it is why I believe that social media as a fundraising phenomena will never be the norm for major gifts.

That’s not to say that fundraising techniques that can easily touch a lot of people at once aren’t important.  They are.  But Pareto’s Principle still holds.  Some people call this the 80/20 rule, but in reality it just means that the majority of results come from a minority of inputs. So, as we know, most of the wealth in this country is held by a very small number of people.  Likewise, most of your gift revenue will come from a small percentage of your donors.

These donors, by and large, will respond best to personal attention.  A wise executive or development director makes sure that time is set aside for those individual visits, one on one phone calls, regular check-ins.  These are donors you really don’t want to lose.

While everyone who supports us is important, if a $75 donor decides not to respond to your direct mail, you probably won’t be facing a fiscal crisis.  But if the donor you were counting on for a $75,000 gift doesn’t come through, you may be in a bit of a pickle.

But why stop at major donors?  It may not pay for you to actually meet a smaller donor, but a personal call or handwritten note may push that prospect to respond by finally pulling out the checkbook or writing the credit card number on that reply device.

Don’t hope that donors will remember to give; remind them.  And remember that the closer you are to the prospect, the closer he or she is to becoming a donor.

Janet Levine is a writer, trainer and consultant who works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Learn more at