Asking for a Major Gift: How to Practice & Prepare

This post was written and originally published by major gifts expert Amy Eisenstein, and is reposted here with her permission.

We’re right in the middle of the Major Gifts Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.

In the last video, you learned how to determine an ask amount.

Once you’ve determined that amount, you want to ask for it with confidence.

There’s an old adage that teaches you the basics — “practice makes perfect.”

The Challenge has focused a lot on asking. Today the discussion goes to the next step, how the ask meeting itself will go.

Like any important meeting, you should prepare. It always astonishes me when I hear about people “winging it.” You would never wing any type of meeting with investors, so why would you wing this?

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

First, determine who will attend the meeting. Ideally, it will be a staff member and a volunteer who know the donor or potential donor well.

The dream team for a major donor ask is the executive director and a board member, who has already made a significant gift. The board member’s gift doesn’t have to be at the same level as the ask, but it needs to be a financially significantly contribution for that board member. In other words, if you’re asking for $1M, your board member doesn’t need to have given $1M, but they do need to have made a significant gift by their own budget.

Next, determine a date and location – preferably one convenient and comfortable for the donor, like their home or office.

Finally, it’s time to determine the ask amount and the agenda for the ask meeting. We discussed how to determine the ask amount in a recent video, so feel free to go back and review.

Setting the Ask Meeting Agenda

The meeting doesn’t need to last more than 20 minutes, and should last 30 at most. The agenda is as follows:

Small Talk

This includes catching up, asking the donor about their business, family, recent vacations, and other things you’ve learned when cultivating this relationship.

This is a great way to open up and loosen up.

Recap and Summary

Restating the purpose of the meeting, saying something like:

“As you know, we have a goal of eliminating the list of children waiting to enroll in our after school programs. We can only do that with help from generous donors like yourself.”


“As you know, we have the goal of providing support services and care packages to every cancer patient in our hospital.”

Share a Story or Your Vision

You can also share a recent success story or reiterate your vision of the future.

“The data doesn’t paint a pretty picture for kids in our area. Unfortunately, the dropout rate is over 30 percent and those kids who dropout have a 40 percent chance of being involved in criminal activity.

However, as a donor, you have been part of the solution. The dropout rate of kids who attend our programs declines to only 5%, and those kids have also seen a spike in their GPA, and are 80% more likely to attend college than their peers.

Let us tell you about Henry (take out a picture of Henry). He came from a single parent home on welfare. His would have been a latch key kid, likely to get mixed up with gangs or drugs, but after 4 years in our programs, Henry is on track to graduate next year and is planning on applying to college.”

Ask for Questions or Concerns

Ask the donor if she has any questions or concerns so far.

“We’re here today to ask you for your support, but before we do, we’d like to ask if you have any questions about the programs or services?”

Ask for Specific Level of Support

Ideally, a the board member will say something like:

“I am here today because the kids mean the world to me. Not only that, but the safety and future of the community depend on programs like these. I volunteer my time and I give money. In fact, this year, I gave the largest gift I’ve ever given. We’re here to ask you to consider a big gift too.”

The Asker will say:

“We would like to ask you to consider a gift in the range of $10,000 to support our after school programs.”

Now, don’t say anything. Just wait patiently for the donor to respond.

We’ll go into more detail on how specifically to respond to the donor in a future post, but in the meantime, don’t leave without a follow up plan.

Follow Up Plan

Did the donor say yes? Congratulations! Find out how they want to make a gift. Should you send them an envelope for a check? Would they prefer to give by credit card online?

If they need to think about it, ask if they need any additional information to help them make their decision. Do not leave without a follow up plan – establish when and how you will continue the conversation.

Finally, if they say no, it’s okay. Ask what they would like to do, and if they are open to continuing the conversation.

Challenge Yourself Action Item

Step 1: Schedule a time and place to meet.

If you have not already done so, schedule a time and a place to meet with your donor to ask for a gift. Remember that the donor’s comfort is paramount in determining the location. Their home or office is ideal.

Step 2: Prepare in advance.

Get together with anyone else going to the ask meeting and prepare in advance. Who will say what? Role play the ask. Practice what you will say if the donor says yes, no, or maybe. Determine who is responsible for asking and for making sure you have a follow up plan for each possible answer.

Going Further with Major Gifts

If you want more details on how to ask, check out my 7-week online course on Mastering Major Gifts. In the course, I provide ask language, role play exercises, and more to help you ask with comfort and success.

Act, Comment and Participate

Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge.
What’s on your ask meeting agenda? How to your prepare and practice? Let me know in the comments.

Want more advice on major giving? Get the Fundraiser's Guide to Major Gifts!

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