We all have fears. Some are healthy fears, like fearing you will get burned if you put your hand too close to fire, or strapping your child into a car seat for fear of them getting hurt in a crash. But most of us also have unhealthy fears that hold us in their grip and cause us not to live our life to the fullest.
One of those unhealthy fears that many people who work with major donors have is actually asking the donor for support. “What?” you are thinking, “how is this possible? That’s their job.”
Yep, I know, we see this as a pervasive fear with many MGOs. We have worked with dozens and dozens of MGOs all over the country and with all types of non-profits; this fear of asking is keeping many MGOs from both helping their donors and helping their organizations.
Here are some warning signals if either you or someone you manage may be struggling with their fear to get in front of their donors and ask.

  1. They tell you they first need to create a plan. Now you may think that’s a good thing, and technically it is, but when an MGO tells you they can’t meet with donors until they have a plan, that’s just avoidance. Watch out for this.
  2. The MGO tells you they missed their window of opportunity. The MGO will make an excuse that goes something like this, “well, this donor only gives in May and it’s June so I’m just going to set up an ask for next year, instead.” Definite warning signal if you hear this.
  3. The MGO tells you the donor only wants to be communicated with by email or phone and doesn’t want to be bothered. In some cases this really could be true, but when I hear this I immediately start asking questions. How do you know this? They have told you they absolutely don’t want you to visit? How will you ask them to support the organization?
  4. “My donor only gives in the mail, they don’t want to be asked.” Gosh, Richard and I have heard this one so many times. This is another avoidance tactic because the MGO is afraid to be in front of donors. You really need to question the MGO if they use this one.
  5. The donor is never home. This is another common excuse we hear.Great MGOs figure out how to get in front of donors. They are tenacious about it. They do not allow themselves to get discouraged about donors who are hard to reach – they look at it as a challenge. If you get “the donor is never home” reply from an MGO, then that is a warning signal.

Now, just because an MGO has this fear of getting in front of their donors and asking doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. I’ve worked with MGOs who have never asked a donor directly for a gift, yet through training and changing their attitude became great at it. Here are some things we tell those MGOs to help them to overcome their fear:

  1. Donors want to give. They have money, they are good people, and they want to give it away to make a difference in the world.
  2. You are actually doing your donor a favor by asking. There is a tremendous amount of research on this. People who give are healthier, wealthier and happier than people who don’t give. And the more they give, the wealthier a donor becomes. So, you see how you are doing your donor a favor. Ask, and ask often!
  3. Donors are just like you. Many times MGOs get it in their heads that people of great wealth are somehow different. Yes, they are… they have more money than you. But they are just people with dreams and fears and all the stuff you carry. Just be real with them and they will be real with you.
  4. Practice meeting a donor. Do some role-playing with a colleague or consultant so you know what to say and do when you are with a donor and asking for a gift. The more you practice this, the easier it will become. I like to visualize the meeting before it happens and what the outcome will be. I find this very helpful in making it actually happen.
  5. Take the leap – what’s the worst that can happen? One of the great ways to overcome a fear is to confront it head-on and just do it. I’ve witnessed so many MGOs overcome their fear by just having the meeting and asking, and the donor saying yes! You wouldn’t believe how that one experience helps you get over it. All of a sudden the MGO says, “hey that wasn’t so bad; it actually felt good!” I often tell the MGO that the worst thing that could happen is that the donor says, “no.” And, if you are going to be an MGO, you will hear that many times over your career, so get over it.

Don’t let fear take over. You will never succeed as an MGO. You will never hold a job longer than a year. You’ll bounce around and around until they find you out. Remember, donors want to be asked. It makes them feel good to give. Now, go out and be what I call a “broker of love,” and bring that donor some happiness.