All of us in major gifts know that there are different stages in the major gift process. Many brilliant major gift people have written about it. Words like identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship come to mind as descriptors of some major stages or phases of major gifts.
But we often encounter some confusion in MGO communication to donors around the use of “ask” language vs. “results or reporting back” language.
In some regards, the very nature of these two languages are polar opposites.
“Ask” language has several key characteristics:
- It describes need in great detail.
- It presents a solution to a need that can only be activated by the donor.
- It is not organizationally focused.
- It asks the donor to be part of the solution by giving.
- It does all of this in human and emotional terms.
“Results/reporting back” language has different characteristics:
- It describes results and outcomes
- It talks about success and solutions achieved.
- It provides more organizational information. (careful: don’t get carried away here)
- It tells the donors they were part of the solution.
- It does all of this in human and emotional terms AND adds facts and proof that what the donor set out to do with the organization actually worked!
You can see how different these two “languages” are. And they each serve a specific objective, or phase, in relationship.
Here’s the problem.
Many MGOs mix these up, using “ask” language and messaging in “results/reporting back” context, or the reverse. And that confuses the donor. Or at times, both languages are even used in the same communication effort. Now, in some cases, I can see the benefit of this. In other words, the MGO is in an “ask” phase and uses “results” messaging to prove to the donor that what he or she is being asked to do actually works. This is a strategic use of the two.
Here’s my point. As you are preparing for your encounter with a donor, whether it be a personal encounter, a phone call or even an email – stop and ask yourself the objective for this encounter. Are you going to be asking? Are you setting up a future ask? Or are you reporting back and telling the donor what an amazing difference her giving has made in the lives of others or our planet?
Be very clear about this. Then, using the lists above, construct your message so you can stay on point. And remember this key principle: while a “results/reporting back” message can be delivered in one event (one contact), the “ask” sequence may be something that itself happens in phases, over many encounters and messages. You should never just come right out and make what I call a “cold ask.” That approach is abusive to the donor and puts you in the mode of going for the money vs. treating the donor as a partner.
Your “ask” sequence should be a series of informational, motivational, heart and emotion stirring touch-points that causes the donor to become engaged with the problem you are addressing, then interested in it, and finally giving to it. There is definitely a “warm-up” dynamic to an effective ask.
As is true in any relationship, the use of language and messaging can either cause understanding, empathy, unity and clarity, or it can be the cause of misunderstanding and confusion. First be clear about your objective, and then use the specific type of language and messaging that will match that objective.