Popping the Question? How to Know When Your Donor is Ready for The Ask

I’m often asked by fundraisers, “How long should I cultivate a donor before asking for a gift?” Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer.  

And yet, if you find yourself asking the same question, some general guidelines can help you time your ask. And to be clear, I’m referring to asking face-to-face rather than lower-touch solicitations such as direct mail or special events.

In the classic fundraising cycle, cultivation precedes asking. Donor cultivation, as you know, is the process by which you build and grow the relationship between a prospect or donor and your organization. Cultivation is a two-way street, meaning that not only will you be sharing with your prospect stories of your nonprofit’s work, you’ll also be learning what inspires your donor in terms of philanthropy. 

Open-Ended Questions

Using open-ended questions when meeting with a donor is one way to gain information that will help you determine when to ask. For example you might ask, “Jane, if you were to get more involved with [our organization] in a way that was meaningful for you, what would that look like?” 

If your donor’s answer indicates she would consider a gift of money, you might follow up with a question about timing such as, “Jane, that sounds wonderful. If you ultimately decided to move in that direction, when might be a good time for you?”

You also want to listen to your prospect when she talks about her interests to see if there is a match with your programs and services. Again, open-ended questions can be a big help. “What do you love about our organization?” or “What are some ways we could improve?”

Donor Readiness

Terry Axelrod, founder of Benevon, suggests this list of ten signs of donor readiness.

  • They ask a lot of questions.
  • They return your phone calls.
  • They bring their friends to your introductory events and offer to host their own introductory events.
  • They give you advice.
  • They come to other events and occasions in the life of the organization.
  • They start talking about themselves and your organization as "we."
  • They ask more questions about your fundraising.
  • They ask how else they can help.
  • They "hang around."
  • They offer to give you money.

Bottom line: Knowing when to ask is not black and white. However, it seems that many fundraisers err on the side of waiting too long. After all, asking can be scary! So, if it feels like it may be time and—even better—if your prospect agrees to meet with you to talk about support for your organization, it’s likely time to pop the question! 

Special gift for you: My step-by-step guide, Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, is available here (click)

What are your thoughts on when to ask? If you have a suggestion for other fundraisers or experience with anything in this post, please share in the Comments box below!