Solicitation, The Ask, and Making a Pitch

Three things that make me grit my teeth. Maybe it's my age, but solicitation reminds me of street corners and whispered requests for unsavory things. I much prefer inviting my supporters to invest and partner with us. And I loathe the focus that too many people have on "The Ask" as if it stands apart from the process that is development--the building of trust, shared values, and commitment to ensure the viability of an organization and/or cause.

Don't even get me started on why I think the word pitch should be banished from all fundraisers’ vocabularies. If you are pitching, you are not listening—and the best skill a fundraiser can develop is that one.

Donor-centered fundraising is not simply a phrase nor is it a fad.  It is the best way to raise serious money.  It is also the only way to retain your donors.

The statistics on retention are horrific.  Less than 40% of donors who make a first gift to

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an organization ever make a second.  And the drop-off doesn’t end there.

But it’s not just about losing donors.  It is also about getting gifts from people who have no clue who you are. A huge percentage of people who make a first gift, when asked about that gift, are unsure or plain don’t know what organization received their largesse.  They know who asked them for the gift—and they know about the gift for their organization that they will as for (if they haven’t already) in return.

When you pitch, you are telling someone what you want.  When you build a relationship, you are finding out what matters to that person.  Which will lead to being to create with them a gift that really matters.

Creating the relationship builds a continuity and a commitment to your organization and the work you do.  That commitment can carry over year after year after year with a significant annual gift.  And it will translate into a major gift from time to time.  Building that relationship means you are learning as much if not more about them—their needs, dreams, desires—as they are learning about you and your organization.  And it means that you are making every interaction as personal, as much about them, as you possibly can.

Yes, there are times when you will have a specific “solicitation meeting.”  The time when you make an ask.  But if you have done your job correctly, you are simply verifying that yes, they still love you, the cause, the project, the amount, and yes, the time is right.

And then your job is to find out from them how you can best recognize what they are doing, and what you need to be doing going forward to ensure that they want to continue investing in you—including asking their friends to join with them in supporting your amazing and wonderful organization.




Janet Levine works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired and helping them to raise more money.  Find out more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.  And now, buy Janet’s new book, Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers.