The Art of the Ask: How to Ask Major Donors for Large Gifts to Your School

April 25, 2016 Joe Garecht

There’s no doubt about it… making asks can be one of the most intimidating tasks for any fundraiser.  The thought of sitting down across the table from someone and asking them to give your school $5,000 or $50,000 is enough to make even seasoned development officers sweat.

Yet, the ability to make a fundraising ask in person and/or on the phone is one of the most essential skills any professional fundraiser can possess.  Sure, writing great fundraising letters is important, holding seamless events is too… but nothing compares to the ability to make a cogent, non-threatening, inspiring fundraising ask.

Remember, the vast majority of fundraising dollars from your school will come from individual donors (not foundations or corporations).  A significant portion of this giving (and a vast majority of the largest gifts) is the result of direct, personal fundraising asks.  As a fundraiser… you need to know how to make a good ask.

The Key to Great Asks is Practice

Making asks can be scary, but it doesn’t need to be.  The most important advice I can give you to help you take the fear out of making asks is to practice.  Not only will practicing asks help you overcome the anxiety that naturally comes from making asks, but it will also make you a better fundraiser… you’ll have your spiel down pat, know how to anticipate objections, and know how to craft a customized ask based on the prospect you are approaching.

The Process: Anatomy of an Ask

During over 15 years of making major donor fundraising asks, I have come up with a simple, six step process for making asks.  These steps form the foundation of the conversation you want to have with donors either in person or on the phone as you make an ask for your school.  The six steps are:

  1. Get the pleasantries out of the way.  Talk about the kids, the family, work, the last time you saw the other person.  Get the small talk out of the way first.
  2. Make a transition.  Once the small talk is out of the way, make a transition so that people know the topic has changed to something far more serious.  Good transitions include, “Listen… I want to talk about something important,” “I’ve got a serious question for you,” or, “Jane, I need your help.”
  3. Make the connection.  Once you’ve moved into more serious conversation through your transition, remind the prospect of the connection that they have with your school (either as an alumni or parent, or through the work you did during the cultivation phase).  For instance, “Jim, I know you love our school. We greatly appreciate all of the years you have spent on our board.  Can you believe it’s been 10 years since you first joined?…” or, “Colleen, you’ve been to three events at the Rising Sun School now, and have volunteered at our annual community day…”
  4. Get Emotional.Make sure that the person you are talking to understands the impact of your school on your students, families and community.  Remind them of what makes your school special, and why it is important.  Good examples are, “Samuel, our school is the only K-8 institution in the city that teaches using a classical education model.  A classical education was life changing for me, as I know it was for you” or “Janet, I’m heartbroken when I have to turn students away from our high school because of financial need.  Every student deserves a Smith School education!”
  5. Make them understand why you need what you are asking for.  This is the background for your specific ask.  Why are you asking them to make a major gift? (“We are building a new library,” or “We want to provide more scholarships to needy children”).
  6. Make the ask.  When asking, be sure to ask for a specific amount, and make sure it’s a real question, not a wishy-washy statement.

Practice these steps often, and soon they will become second nature.  Don’t be afraid, as part of your planning process, to write out a script for yourself and practice it over and over again so you’ll be ready for your ask.  And remember, always profusely thank everyone who responds to your ask, and be sure to thank those who say “no” for their time and consideration.

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About the Author

Joe Garecht

Joe Garecht is a non-profit fundraising consultant, author, and speaker and the founder of Garecht Fundraising Associates and The Fundraising Authority. He has almost 20 years experience in fundraising as a development director, executive director, and consultant. As the executive director of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS), Joe led the effort to raise $50 million in endowments for individual schools, raised $4 million yearly in scholarship funds, and modernized and professionalized the fundraising capabilities of over 175 parochial schools in the Philadelphia region. You can find Joe online at

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