Scoping Out a Gift Before Asking

advice appeals capital campaigns fundraising how to major gifts Dec 13, 2021
Scoping Out a Gift Before Asking

Years ago, I worked with a financial and fundraising firm in Chicago. I was tasked with training a group of parish leaders in making an ask asks for a diocesan capital campaign. 

The VP of Advancement for the diocese wanted to run the campaign internally to spare the expense of the capital campaign consultants. We met with representatives from several parishes and the newly hired campaign staff in the meetings planning my hire. The consensus was “the ask” was likely the biggest obstacle to the campaign. Most of those charged with leading the ask or training the pastors on asking had little to no fundraising experience. 

We were tasked with coming up with a gentle but powerful approach to asking for a significant capital campaign gift. Note: this is very similar to asking for a major gift for the first time and assumes some level of relationship with the party with which you are meeting. In this case, the pastors with a representative from the campaign staff would meet one-on-one with high-capacity parishioners. 

What we came up with is still an approach I use today. We called it “If there was a way.” 

You simply ask, “If there was a way… (insert your organization’s impact)… would you consider giving.”

What is so powerful with the “if there was a way” approach is it can be used in nearly all fundraising conversations. It is powerful in scoping out a gift before an ask, making the ask itself a lot easier. 

Here are some examples of how to use it in different fundraising contexts: 

Major Gift or Capital Campaign Gift:
If there were a proven system for ending generational poverty, would that be something you would consider supporting financially?


Breaking the Ice with a Grant Making Foundation:
“If there was a way to graduate inner-city youth from college at the same rate as more privileged students, would that be something your foundation would consider supporting? 


Planned and Structured Giving Conversations:
If there was a way to sponsor a student and lower the tax burden from the sale of your business, would you want to hear about it? 


If there was a way to make a difference in a child’s life and it only took one hour of your time each week would you consider volunteering? 

The next time you need to test a donor’s interest or intent, try this approach and see how it goes. I like this approach because it is a little presumptive and rhetorical, but it does allow the donor to say no. That puts the fundraiser in a situation to recover by asking about what the donor would support and how they determine which causes to support. 

If there was a way for you to test a donor’s interest prior to making a big ask, would you use it? Would you investigate more giving opportunities?