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December 3, 2021
Look for the 10 Signs of Donor Readiness before Asking
By Terry Axelrod

Terry Axelrod
Terry Axelrod
Potential donors send many signals when they’re ready to give. Successful fundraisers know when to stop focusing on their pitch and instead focus on signs indicating that the individual is ready to be asked.

Most people dislike fundraising is because of that big, scary thing called "asking." It’s understandable given that most fundraising advice puts the focus squarely on you, the asker. You’re told how to mentally prepare yourself, taught how to prepare your speech, advised to practice it a few times, and instructed on what to do if the donor says “no.” You prepare yourself for the dreaded rejection and develop a counter-offer so that you will eventually get a “yes." The emphasis is entirely on you as the “asker.”

To be successful, approach “asking” from a different point of view—that of the donor. Specifically, focus on the donor's readiness to be asked. After all, if one is interested in building a lifelong relationship with a donor, why rush the process or risk offending a donor by asking too soon? Ideally, one would not ask a donor for a contribution unless it was certain that they were ready to give.

That is called "donor readiness." With the foundation laid through a long and thoughtful process of cultivation, the “ready” donor is actually beginning to wonder why no one has asked them yet to give money to the organization. In that situation, asking becomes nothing more than nudging the inevitable.

Think about someone currently involved with your organization who seems ready to give. How do you know they are ready? What signals or cues is the individual giving?

Here are the 10 signs of donors’ readiness:
  1. They ask a lot of questions.
  2. They return your phone calls.
  3. They bring their friends to tours of your organization so they can learn more about your mission.
  4. They give you advice.
  5. They come to other events and occasions in the life of the organization.
  6. They start talking about themselves and your organization as "we."
  7. They ask more questions about your fundraising.
  8. They ask how else they can help.
  9. They “hang around.”
  10. They offer to give you money.
In other words, donors let you know in many ways that they are ready to give. They give off cues—cues which you naturally will recognize, if you trust your intuition.

Now, think of a person you would like to ask for money. Is he or she giving any of these signals? Just because this person’s name may be on the "big-hitter" list in your community does not mean they even know or care about you.

If you let the donor determine the pace of the relationship, there will come a time when the fruit will be ripened, when the donor will have given enough signals and cues that you will know they are ready to be asked. Moreover, you’ll know the amount they would like to be asked to give.

You need to know that they already want to contribute before you ask. You should be certain that the individual has an abundance of exactly what you will be asking them for—well before you ask.

You must have a compelling emotional pitch and a factual plan explaining why this person should give to your organization. If the answer is "no," thank them anyway for being a friend of your organization and ask if there is any other way they would like to get involved.

Then, your job is to involve them in precisely that way until they are ready to be asked for exactly the thing they want to say "yes" to. Then you ask them again (or have the perfect person ask them) so that when they say "yes," they feel great about it.

When a “Win” Is Really a “Lose”

If they say "yes" and don't feel great about it, it's not a "win." It's actually a "lose," and you don't need it that badly. They've got to feel as if they sprinkled fairy dust on the most worthwhile cause in the world. They've got to feel so good about it that they don't have to tell anyone else that they did it. They need to feel as if their gift to your organization is a personal indulgence for them #147; as if your organization is their personal indulgence.

Then, after they say "yes," you've got to let them know that you are really excited—not just politely appreciative—to receive their gift. You've got to let them know it was a big deal to you. Then you have made a real friend. You've allowed them to truly contribute to your organization and to feel the way you feel when you've truly contributed.

This is called “donor-centered asking.” And it's not the least bit scary.

Terry Axelrod is the founder of Benevon, which trains and coaches organizations about sustainable fundraising. Reprinted with permission of Benevon. Contact Terry at or call 206#147;709#147;9400.

October 2010
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