Don’t Ask in the Ask Proposal

After at least 9 months of detailed relationship building, you may sense the time is right to do the ‘ask’.  The assumption for this is :

  • You have had a minimum of monthly, two way ‘touch points’ ie at least 9
  • Note: some relationships can take 2 – 3 years to get to this point it depends on the depth of relationship after 9 months
  • You have built the relationship to the point where you understand your philanthropist’s:
    • Personal interests
    • Values
    • Philanthropic interest
    • You have found a match between their interest and a project that needs funding
  • You have achieved some special moments that have created ‘memories

It is really helpful to prepare a personalised proposal for the project.  At this point you will have already discussed it with them and know they understand the need and want to do something about it.

It is now time to book the ‘ask’ meeting. It is always helpful to let them know that this is indeed what it is about.  Sentences such as ‘we have been discussing this project/work for some time Jean, I’d like to come and talk it through with you in more detail’ really help.

The proposal is not off the shelf, it has been personally written with them in mind and the introduction, executive summary and conclusion reflect the conversations you have had with the philanthropist and their angle of interest.

One of the strategies I suggest in negotiating with the philanthropist (and an ask is always a negotiation) is to leave the actual ask amount out of the document.  By doing so you keep yourself open for the very best result.

I advise my clients to do this because although you have determined your needs and expectations in advance, a situation may arise that you had not anticipated.  As you are talking through the proposal with the philanthropist (never send it to them in advance unless they specifically won’t let you do it any other way), they often reveal crucial information such as:

“My maximum that I can give at the moment is £20,000. I am so committed elsewhere”.  This doesn’t bode well if you have asked for £50,000 in the proposal – the donor will feel disappointed.  Not a great way to achieve a good result.  Or “I am really keen to support this project to the next stage” – he or she is hinting that they want to fund it all and you have only asked for £10,000 in the proposal.  Both these situations put you in a potentially awkward situation.

My advice is to put the whole budget into the proposal and make the need clear but do the “ask” verbally.  It gives you greater flexibility.  It also saves you having to leave the proposal in your briefcase until the next time.  Some people take two versions of the proposal but why not make it easy and go prepared but make your final decision on the ask amount in the meeting.

I personally think that as long as the relationship is strong you can feel freedom to ask high or even ask for the whole project cost.  Your philanthropist will soon let you know if its too high by saying, for example, “I would love to fund it all but I’m just not in a position to do that, however I’d be happy to fund half….”

The only possible answer is YES, NO or MAYBE and usually its MAYBE and then the negotiating begins.  What is your experience?


For over 30 years Ruth has worked as a major gift fundraising consultant in the UK heading up her own Consultancy and then as Business Development Director and Board Member for the UK’s Chapter One Group/Ketchum Inc Consultancy followed by Major Gift Director for the London based Domain Group. She is currently the Principal and Founder of Ascent Philanthropy. Ruth is a writer and blogger and is passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes either by enhancing the work of the philanthropy team or overseeing the introduction of a new major gift programme.

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