The Science of Asking For Major Gifts

There is a lot of talk about the gender wage gap. White women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar that white men make (it gets worse if you are a woman of another race). This shocking and appalling statistic has left many people asking why? After much research, one of the major reasons was determined, women don’t ask for more money.

This is an important lesson about the importance of asking for what you need. This same lesson applies to major gifts. You need to ask your prospects and major donors for money, or you won’t make your fundraising targets. Unfortunately asking isn’t enough, you need to ask smartly. Below are some psychological tips for making a great major gift ask.

How do you make the right ask?

1. Make your request reasonable

If you want to build a long-term personal relationship with this prospect, then ask for something reasonable.

Do your research to determine your prospects’ giving history (look at other organizations) and try to figure out what they can afford to give.

2. Give a small number of reasons for the request

Studies have shown that people were more likely to give a donation when they were given a single basis for their request. 

Once again, research your prospect and determine what will motivate them to give, and then cite that reason when asking.

3. Before asking, get them to volunteer

Want to make friends? Ask them to do a favour for you. This seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Researchers tested this theory and found that people who were asked a personal favour by the researcher rated them much more favourably than people who weren’t.

Getting someone to volunteer for a few hours is easier than getting them to give a major gift. When they volunteer, you’ll begin building the foundation for a long-term relationship between this prospect and your organization.

4. Use Flattery

Sincere flattery is very powerful, especially if the person has high self-esteem. When researchers studied flattery, they found that people are looking to have their beliefs affirmed. So if someone has high self-esteem, they will respond favorably to your compliments but if someone has low self-esteem, flattery may backfire.

Research your prospect. Find out as much information as you can. Look on social media and consult their networks to determine how they see themselves. If they have high self-esteem, give them genuine compliments. Otherwise, stay away from flattery.

5. Try Mirroring Their Behaviour

Mirroring means copying people’s mannerisms. People tend to do this naturally because of mirror neurons. In fact, some scientists believe that mirror neurons evolved to help us get along better in social groups. Scientists have found that mirroring people's behaviour makes you more likable.

Try mirroring your prospects behaviour when you are making the ask.

6. Use Reflective Listening

Reflective listening means repeating stuff back. Listen to what your major gift’s prospect has to say and paraphrase it and repeat it back to them.  This can help deepen your relationship with your prospect. Studies have shown that when therapists used reflective listening, they were able to build stronger relationships with their patients. 

You can use this technique to strengthen relationships with your prospects, so they give more.

These psychological tricks are very helpful when you are ready to make the ask, but they can’t replace research and genuine relationship building. Make sure you are taking all the necessary steps to steward your major gifts donors so that when the time comes to ask, they are willing to open their pocketbooks to help you further your cause.


Need help with your major gifts strategy? Download our free eBook Major Gifts From Major Donors!



More Resources:

Maximize Major Gifts with a Moves Management Strategy (Read Time: 3 mins) 

Image 1: A. Alwosaibie, flicker; Image 2: Rachel.Chalkley, flicker;