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Engage Donors by Making the Right Ask

Engaging donors

Part three of Five Strategies to Engage Donors Right Now

Pastors and church leaders often ask when and how they should appropriately make a financial request of a member. In this blog series Five Strategies to Engage Donors Right Now, we’re looking at five strategies that will help you connect with and inspire your givers – this includes asking for gifts to support the ministry.

How exactly should you actually go about presenting the church’s case to a member and asking for the donation?  After years of working with major donors, I believe strongly in a four-phase approach to donor relationships: 

  1. Acknowledgment
  2. Building trust
  3. Presenting the case for support
  4. The ask

The sequence is important. Most significantly, these phases keep the donor’s needs, interests, and values in view at all times. 

The foundation of a relationship with a donor, like the foundation of a relationship with any friend, is what we call “acknowledgment.” Acknowledgment is the crucial foundation on which any eventual request for funds must be built. One might say I must “earn the right” to present the case for support. If I have acknowledged the donor adequately for his or her faithfulness to our ministry, I can eventually present the case for support with confidence that I won’t be violating the values of the donor, or unintentionally devaluing the donor.

The natural progression from the acknowledgment of a donor or prospect leads you into the trust-building process. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. No less than 80 percent of the time I spend with a donor will involve the trust-establishment process. If there is a single core to ministry-based fundraising, this is it. We don’t hound, pressure, manipulate, or “emotionally inspire” a contribution from someone; we build trust so that a contribution becomes the natural outflow of the relationship.

The recognition of a donor’s trust is a strong signal that he or she is ready to receive a presentation of the case for deeper support of the ministry. Many pastors or ministry leaders want a strict formula for this, but the nature of the presentation must grow out of your understanding of the individual donor’s learning style. You need to communicate effectively regardless of an individual donor’s specific ‘wiring.’ How does this individual instinctively prefer to receive information? Some donors prefer to receive digitized videos via email. Some prefer to have a casual conversation over lunch. Some prefer to be buried in audit numbers and information. The message must come through in a medium that makes sense to the donor.

When making a presentation to a donor to solicit a gift, keep it simple.  This is about the project, campaign, or aspect of the ministry that requires funding. What is the strategy, program, or concept — unique to your church or ministry — which meets a specific pressing need? It is essential that you make clear why this is the place for the donor to invest. Show the donor how he or she can be a partner in achieving the strategy or mission.

After you have acknowledged and affirmed your donor, built trust, and presented your case for support, it is time for the ask! Here is an example of language to use when it seems like the right time to transition from presentation to ask: ‘Susan, based on the information I’ve shared with you here, do you have any concerns about this project? Any questions I could answer? No? Would this be a good time to share with you what we’re going to need financially? This is a $55,000 project. We’re looking for three donors of $10,000 or more. Would you be willing to take one of those positions, to be one of those partners?’ 

If you’re unsure about the specific dollar amount a donor might consider — let the donor see the total need, and let the donor set the bar: ‘Here’s the project, here’s what we’re trying to do. It’s going to cost $250,000. We will need a donor to give $50,000, and four donors to give $25,000. I’ll need 10 donors to give $10,000 each. I know you have a passion for this. Where would you see yourself in this project?’ The donor will probably set his or her own bar by mentioning an amount.

If the donor asks for time to consider the ask, talk to his or her spouse, or pray about it, always affirm their response and timeline. Follow up at an agreed-upon time, and keep the communication open. You are in the relationship for the long haul, and the donor needs your ministry more than you need their investment. Finally, express your gratitude regardless of the outcome.

We will unpack additional tips for engaging and inspiring donors now in this series.

Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development.  Serving as an Executive Pastor and Chief Development Officer in growing Churches and Non-Profit Organizations has provided a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA, a boutique firm committed to helping nonprofits and churches build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.

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