One of the biggest errors in asking is to assume that the process is linear, i.e you start at one point and, through a succession of steps, you get to the final conclusion. The steps are all in order, like stakes in the ground – where you complete one step, then move to another, then another and then you’re done.
We don’t think this is how real life and relationships work. Nor is it effective.
You know as well as we do that real-life interaction with others is circular. You start the interaction in one place and then receive a reaction. If you are operating with a belief that honoring the other person is important (as Jeff and I do), then you take that reaction and adjust – rather than just plowing through with your agenda. This is delicate, I know.
And this is why we call this part of Permission-Based Asking™ the Alignment Circle. Because it’s that part of the “system” where you seek to align to the donor and her passions and interests. (See my description of the initial parts of this asking model here.)
Please note several things about the alignment circle below:

The Alignment Circle

Copyright 2018, Veritus Group LLC

First, you always need to keep the donor in the center of the alignment. That is why we put a symbolic figure at the center – this is to help you remember that the donor must be at the center, and she must be the decision-maker.
Then there are three integrated steps in the circle as follows:

1. Align – The sole objective of this phase is agreement, understanding and alignment about whatever topic comes up, either as you enter the alignment circle or as you go all the way around and a new topic or issue surfaces. (We’ll look at other scenarios in a future blog of this series). This is where you seek to understand; and as you understand, you agree and align. So as you enter the alignment circle, your first level of alignment might be as simple as confirming the reason for your call or visit and the time that is available. It sounds like this: “As we discussed over the phone, I’m here to talk with you about an opportunity for you to have a great impact on xxx; is that your understanding? And does meeting until XX time still work for you today?”
There is another important value that that you should pay attention to in this alignment step. It is to consistently and constantly empower the donor, encouraging them to be themselves in the interaction with you and not responding in an obligatory manner to your presence or your words.
Just this week I was with a CEO of a major non-profit in the Midwest. She was telling me that she gets so many calls from charities seeking her support. I asked if she gave to them. “Yes,” she replied, “I feel obligated.” So, here is a situation where the donor does not feel empowered – empowered to say what she really thinks, empowered to say no, empowered to ask the question that she wants to ask, etc.
This empowering item is so important. You are confirming and empowering the donor to express her passions and interests through the work of your organization. You are ensuring that she understands that her partnership with you is something that means a lot to you.
Here is what this could sound like: “Your partnership is so important to us and the (people, animals, environment) we serve. I appreciate you and want you to know that your passion to make a difference means so much to me. And I want to be sure you know that all of us at (organization name) are here to serve you and answer any questions or concerns you might have. So today, I’ll be asking some questions to be sure I am aligned with you on what you want to accomplish through (name of your organization). I will also keep our meeting moving along so that we can cover everything we need to talk about in the time you’ve given me. Is that OK with you?”
Then Facilitate: Ask permission, through a quick question, to move to the next part of your meeting. You are signaling a transition to being curious. Example: “I was touched to hear your story of XXX and how it inspired you to give. Would you mind me asking a few more questions about that?”
2. Be CuriousIn this step you are wanting to secure more information about what drives the donor to give, and discover if she has questions about something you have already talked about. You want to ask open-ended questions (not Yes/No questions) to learn more. You are also letting the donor know you have HEARD her – “As we’ve talked the past several months, I’ve seen your concern for xxx. You’ve told me how you feel and why this matters to you. What are your thoughts now? OR Has this changed or developed in any way?” PAUSE.
Then continue to be curious – You want not only to be curious with great questions, but also to listen with your whole being. What is the donor saying, and what is her body language indicating? What does she seem worried or excited about?
Depending on where you are with the donor, some questions may sound like this:

  • “I know you said that the major reason you are interested in X is this. I was just wondering, how did you develop that interest?”
  • “After reading over the proposal, what stood out to you, or do you have more questions about or want to learn more about something?”
  • “Now that we’ve talked more about this project, what concerns do you have? What is still unclear? What would you like to learn more about?”

Then Facilitate: Ask permission, through a quick question, to move to the next part of your meeting. You are signaling a transition to asking. Example: “You said earlier that the main reason you are interested in X is this. I want to tell you about how you can fulfill that interest. Is that OK with you?”
3. Ask – The objective here is to ask. Here you are asking the donor to take an action, to make a decision, to commit to giving. This needs to be short and said in one breath: Example: “Would you consider a gift of $x for Project X?” Keep it simple, clear, and concise – and then pause to let the donor respond.

Note that there is not more to say at this point, because the majority of the work is what happened earlier in the align and be curious steps. If you’ve done those correctly, the ask stage follows naturally.
There is a great deal of complexity that follows the asking step, in that there are all types of options the donor has that you will encounter once you have asked. And any one of those options will force you to go around the alignment circle a number of times in one conversation.
You may have to check in on whether the donor’s interests are truly aligned with a project you are proposing, or questions she may have about the materials on the project you sent, or thoughts, concerns or objections about the project. Or she may say “no” or “maybe” – and that will have you circling around again. This is good, and I will deal with those options in a later blog.
My next post will look at the celebrate step. This is so important. I am looking forward to sharing it with you. And Jeff and I are thrilled with the tremendous response we have had from our readers on the model. Thank you.
Read the whole series on Permission-Based Asking:

  1. Permission-Based Asking: An Introduction
  2. Permission-Based Asking: Making Connections
  3. Permission-Based Asking: The Alignment Circle (this post)
  4. Permission-Based Asking: Celebrate
  5. Permission-Based Asking: The Alignment Cycle Matrix
  6. Permission-Based Asking: Dealing with Fear, Developing Conversation