The Failure To Ask

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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By Howard Benson, posted September 4, 2013


Recently, I had a brief conversation that reminded me of what many believe to be the biggest failure in fundraising - the failure to ask.


A friend inquired if I’d seen a mutual acquaintance of many years. He said his last contact occurred a few months ago when she requested his help in bringing a small group of high achieving school children from his former home town, Augusta, where she teaches, to Atlanta for a special exhibition at one of the museums. She had told him she needed $400 to help defray transportation, admission and meal expenses. My friend said he immediately sent her a check and later received thank you notes from the children and from our friend.

What struck me first about his story was that he had been asked. The solicitation came personally from someone he knew, for a purpose that was reasonable and urgent, for a specific amount that was easily within his capacity to provide. A need had been defined, a likely donor was identified, the ask was made, and the request was promptly granted.

Now, I could quibble that the school teacher could have been more strategic and should not be out “panhandling” her friends. Perhaps, she could establish a school-wide fund for such excursions, describe the wonderful range of experiences many children would have, enlist a committee, and raise $20,000 from a wider donor base. But, in the absence of such thinking, the teacher took the initiative and did what more non-profit organizations and causes could—and should do - she asked!

The ask worked on two vital levels: (1.) presenting an opportunity to make a difference—in this case, in the lives of children, and (2.) responding to a personal request by a person with whom a relationship existed.

In promptly writing his check, my buddy didn’t require a ton of “return on investment” data; he didn’t even need his arm twisted. All he needed was to be asked. It’s an example from which even the most experienced fundraising pros can benefit and learn.

Category: NCDS Blog



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"On behalf of the officers and directors of the Economic Development Alliance, I want to thank you and your staff for the great job NCDS did in helping restructure the Alliance, and for successful management of the fundraising campaign that fully funded our five-year action plan. The NCDS process and format delivered exactly what you said it would do when you met with Alliance members over eighteen months ago. The NCDS process engaged top regional private and public sector leaders and attracted financial support from large and small companies and communities throughout the region."

Brian Ferguson, Chairman & CEO (Retired) • Eastman Chemical Company

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