As amazing as it may seem today, there are hundreds of major gift officers around the country who are afraid to ask their donors for a gift.  Or they are afraid to ask for a significant gift. Why are they still major gift officers?  This is one of the great questions in major gift fundraising that has yet to be answered.
Perhaps, it’s because in our non-profit-so-nice culture we are afraid to fire people.  Or maybe it’s because MGO’s are such fun, good-natured people that we want to keep them around in our organizations.
Sadly, Richard and I see this phenomenon all the time.  I know the for-profit world would not put up with salespeople who are afraid to sell, so it’s time the non-profit world catches up.
I believe there are four main reasons why major gift officers or development professionals are afraid to ask.  If you or someone you manage is struggling with asking donors on a  caseload for a gift, it’s probably due to one of these reasons:

  1. Fear of rejection. Richard actually wrote about this recently in his post concerning  the little person in each of us. We find many MGO’s who have a hard time asking because they have this fear of the donor saying, “NO.”  IF an MGO cannot move past this fear, he will never make it.  And if you are a manager, you cannot allow an MGO to be stymied by this.  In my blog post earlier this week I told you that MGO’s have to be emotionally healthy to be effective.  This is one of those areas that will make or break an MGO.
  2. Lack of Confidence by the MGO that the “ask” is right.  Richard and I have seen this quite a bit.  The MGO either feels pressure from her boss or she doesn’t know her donor well enough to feel good about making the ask. When this happens she either doesn’t ask the donor when they are sitting down in their meeting or she“lowballs” the ask.  And in many cases the ask will be sabotaged by not giving the donor the opportunity to respond to the initial ask.  Here is how that sounds: “Mrs. Smith, would you consider a gift of $300,000 for the new feeding center?”  And, before she can respond, the MGO jumps in and says, “But if $300,000 is too much, anything you can give would be helpful.”  The ask is now dead in the water.  The absolute key to all of this is that the MGO has to KNOW the donor.  By the time you get to an ask, essentially before the words are even uttered from the MGO’s mouth, the donor is ready to say,”YES!!!”
  3. The MGO doesn’t passionately believe in the project or the organization.  It’s absolutely mandatory that an MGO believe in what is being offered to a donor.  If an MGO doesn’t believe in the project, how can he “sell” it to the donor?  He can’t.  This is why he comes back from a meeting with a donor with nothing in his hands.  A great MGO knows how to ask, and he will do it with unbridled passion for the cause.
  4. The MGO doesn’t have the right philosophy of giving.  This is a big deal for me.  I’ve witnessed MGO’s who basically apologize to a donor when asking for a gift.  Why?  Because they felt bad having to ask the donor to give so much money away.  I’ll bet you’ve heard an MGO say, “Gosh, I just don’t feel good about asking a donor for $100,000 in this bad economy.” Or, “I can’t ask her for that amount.  She gave us a large gift last year…” If you are a manager and you hear your MGO utter these words, this MGO has a massive misunderstanding about what fundraising is about.  I like to think that MGO’s are “brokers of joy.”  Donors want to give.  They want to make a difference.  And when donors give, they are happy and full of joy.  The role of the major gift officer is to understand this, embrace it and connect the needs of the world with a donor’s desire.  I want to be clear here.  If your donor tells you directly that he or she cannot give for some specific reason, you absolutely have to honor that.  However, if you are making up a story in your head because of something you feel, but have no real factual basis for it, then you have a problem with what fundraising is really about.

Okay, I’m going to be blunt here.  If you or someone you manage cannot ask because of one or more of these reasons, then there has to be some serious retraining…and it needs to happen quickly.  And if, after the retraining, that person continues to be afraid to ask, then he or she needs to move on.  It doesn’t do the organization or the donor any good to depend on a broken bridge to come together.  Because that is what you are.  You are a bridge between the donor’s desire to give and the organization’s greatest needs.