Build Better Donor Relationships by Asking Permission
Imagine you are sitting at lunch with a potential donor. It’s been going smoothly. The plates have been cleared away and coffee is ordered, and you finally get up the nerve to propose the number that has been on your mind throughout the meal.
A second passes. And then another.
And the donor bursts out laughing.
This is a real scenario that played out for an attendee of our recent webinar, The Power of Permission, led by Harrison Porter, director of development at the Orlando Health Foundation. Harrison’s goal is to keep this scene (which also included the donor spitting out their food) from happening to you.
Little Asks Build the Bridge
Asking people for money is intimidating. When you ask the wrong person for the wrong gift at the wrong time, you risk rejection, damaging the relationship, even personal offense. Harrison believes you can more easily move donors along the giving journey and be more prepared for the “ask” by engaging them in a series of smaller requests for permission that build gradually over time. By the time you get to the gift conversation, the dreaded “ask” is just one more small step toward the goal.
Harrison reminds us that we have plenty of experience asking for small permissions from our personal lives: May I ask you a question? May I help you? Would you like to go out with me?
We've been taught from our childhood to ask for permission. Bringing the idea of permission into our working lives is a natural extension.
Permission Shows Respect for Donors’ Boundaries
Asking for permission shows that you're there to help meet their philanthropic objectives and not just to force a project. It helps develop rapport, build trust, shows respect, and helps you to identify your donors’ sensitivities.
“People want to know that you're listening,” Harrison said. “They don’t want to feel like an ATM.”
Seeking out “yesses” (or “no’s”) ensures that you respect potential donors’ boundaries. For example, you might ask a donor for permission to share the news of their major gift with the hospital president. If the donor says they want to stay anonymous, you now know not to ask to feature them in your newsletter either.
Other boundaries include a donor’s timeline for giving or their intent to give at all. You can ask permission to gauge interest. If you ask someone if it’s ok for you to check in to talk about updates with the hospital, and they say no, they’re probably not going to be a great prospect for your campaign.
Permission Lets You Celebrate the Small Stuff
“We work in a business where it’s not until after the end of a project that we see the impact of a tower or a piece of equipment. Breaking things down helps keep momentum,” Harrison said. “Even if we haven't seen anything tangible, we're able to celebrate the work of our teams and ourselves at each of the milestones up to ‘yes.’”
Scripting to Get You Started
Even if you are nodding along, you may still be afraid of hearing “no” or under pressure to close a gift quickly to meet an internal goal. Having scripting to fall back on can help increase your comfort. Here is some sample scripting from Harrison to help you get started on your own path to “yes.”
To understand communication preferences
- I know you make your decisions in December. Can I follow up with you about this project in November?
- Would you like to opt out of our email communications?
To follow up
- I enjoyed connecting with you and hearing more about your story. If it's OK with you, I would love to give you a call in a few months and just check in. Would that be ok with you?
- Would this week be a good time for you to meet for coffee?
To understand areas of interest
- Would it be ok if I shared some information about our cancer program?
- Could I get your input on a new program I think you’d be interested in?
To consider supporting a campaign
- Can I tell you about a project that needs funding that I'm really excited about?
- May I speak to you about opportunities for getting involved with this project?
To tee up the “ask”
- Are you ready to discuss this opportunity / consider a proposal?
To gauge interest in recognition
- Your story is so inspiring and encouraging to our mission. Would you be comfortable with us sharing it in our newsletter as an example to inspire the support of others
- I know the president of the hospital will be thrilled by the news of your gift. Is it ok if I share the good news of your generosity with her?
Whatever words you use, breaking down your asks into sizeable pieces builds confidence.
“I got the donor visit. I got permission to put a proposal together. I was able to get a volunteer to come alongside me for a solicitation,” Harrison said. “These things keep the momentum going.”
For more information about using permission to build stronger donor relationships, AHP members can watch Harrison Porter’s full webinar, The Power of Permission, on demand.