How to Warm Up Your Donors for Big Major Gift Asks

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Donors are people just like we are.for post

They don’t want to be surprised by a solicitation.

If you have a close relationship with your donor, then you’ll want to lay careful groundwork to prepare her.

And you’ll want to do this well before you bring in a delegation to sit down with her for a formal discussion.

You should always let her know what is coming, so she will be ready to discuss a gift.

Here are some easy and polite ways to ask for permission for an “ask discussion:”

Our CEO and board chair would like to come chat with you about the project we’ve been discussing. Would you like to meet with them?”


We’ve always dreamed of naming our new wing after your late husband, who founded our organization. Is that something you might like to discuss?


I know how much you care about the ballet. We’d love to get together with you and brainstorm about how you could be even more involved!


You are really one of our true believers in this cause. Would you like to learn more about the Founders Circle and see if you might like to join!


We’d like to sit down with you and your family and give you an update of the endowment your father set up 20 years ago. Is that something you might like to do? (asking permission)

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May we come chat with you how we could partner together in the future?

Always ask for permission to discuss a major gift!

When I was a staff fundraiser for UNC-Chapel Hill, I would literally ask my board members if they were ready.

I’d say:

In major gifts fundraising, the relationship is more important than the ask.

In major gifts fundraising, the relationship is more important than the ask.

“You’ve been so involved. I’m wondering if you are ready to discuss your campaign gift? The dean would like to come see you.”

Once, I was having dinner in New York City with one of our million dollar prospects. In order to bring up the topic of a gift, I asked him if he was ready.

My donor said: “How much are they going to ask me for?

I took a deep breath and said, “I think they are planning to ask for you for a million.”

He sat silently for a while, playing with his fork.

And then he said, “Tell them to come next year, not this year.”

Now, was this good major gift fundraising?

YES! Because it prevented anyone from being embarrassed.

He didn’t have to say “NO” to the Dean.

And the dean didn’t go ask and come away empty handed.

We made everybody look good and the donor was pleased that he was not put in an awkward situation.

3 great reasons WHY you should gently prepare your donor for a major gift ask:

1. You’ll find out if the time is right.

We all know that timing is everything.

It needs to be the right time for your donor to discuss something big.

There could be illness or a divorce in the family. Or the time could be just right – they could be selling off assets – or receiving an inheritance.

If you can let her know an ask is coming, then she can gently say “not this year” or “be sure to bring xxxx person.”

She might even tell you that she would like to get to know your CEO better before she discusses an investment. That’s useful info!

2. You are more likely to get a yes if your donor is prepared.

If you tell her that your CEO would like to chat with her about the campaign,  she will start thinking about her commitment.

Then you’ll be more able to have a substantial conversation with her.

If she is not ready to discuss it, then she simply won’t be willing to meet. And you’re dead in the water.

3. It’s good manners too.

Just think about it, – this is how you would like to be treated.

The real fact is, people absolutely do not like to be surprised by a sudden solicitation.

Have you attended a formal luncheon that turned out to be an “ask event” and nobody told you it was coming?  Awful.

BOTTOM LINE: Warm Up Donors Before You Bring up the Topic of a Gift

We think this is simply this is the right thing to do.

People need time to think about big gifts.

Warm them up well, and they will be more generous.

How do YOU warm up donors for a big ask?

Let us know with a comment below –