Skip to main content

Asking for Gifts: Walls of Words or Collaborative Conversations?

By March 9, 2011October 14th, 2014Donor Engagement, Guest Post

This week I’m featuring a post by guest bloggers Andrea Kihlstedt and Brian Saber from Asking Matters where it’s major gifts month and where I’ll be a guest speaker for their membership community.


Oftentimes when people visit donors to ask for major gifts they make the mistake of talking too much. They unintentionally build a wall between themselves and their prospective donor, a wall of words.
andrea_kWhen a team of two or three people solicit a gift together, the tendency to talk too much can be even worse. Usually each person is assigned a specific role in the ask and when one person stops talking, the next begins. After listening to three speeches, without a break, even the most willing and interested donor’s eyes can glaze over.

This approach to asking for gifts is common–even the norm–for most askers. Recently one of our philanthropist friends, Carol, told us what happened when a team of three big guns from the local university asked her for a large gift.

One after the other they made the case for their institution. During the presentations Carol found herself glancing at her watch. When they finally stopped talking, having asked for a large gift, she said she felt like a deer in the headlights. The deafening silence was unpleasant. She felt pressured and unheard; not a frame of mind that increased her desire to be generous.

Not once during the thirty-minute solicitation did anyone ask her what she thought of the university or about her current interests or giving priorities. None of the big guns took the time to find out what might have changed for her in the year since they last met. The meeting was solely about the university’s needs and opportunities. Carol felt they were only interested in talking with her because of her money. Not such a great feeling.
brian_saberTo be more successful, make sure you give equal footing to both the donor and the institution. Use your solicitations to create collaborative discussions rather than building walls of words.

As solicitor you are not the pitch-person for your organization. Rather, think of yourself as a facilitator working to find the points of shared interest between prospective donors and your organization. The difference in approach is profound.

Your task is to manage a respectful conversation with the donor that provides ample opportunity to find the places where a donor’s interests and means might (or might not) align with your organization’s plans and needs.

To be sure your solicitations are collaborative conversations and not walls of words, keep these five points in mind the next time you prepare to solicit a gift.

  1. Get curious about the donor.
  2. Prepare questions rather than answers.
  3. Use a stopwatch to practice a “pitch” that’s less than two minutes long.
  4. Follow the standard flow of an adult conversation: greeting, discussion, request, response, and follow up.
  5. Be sure to remember that giving and not giving are both prerogatives of the donor.

You’ll find that respectful conversations where you have a healthy dose of curiosity about the donor’s interests are not only more successful in the short run, but lead to the kind of mutual understanding and respect essential for building satisfying long-term relationships.

About Brian Saber and Andrea Kihlstedt
Brian Saber and Andrea Kihlstedt are cofounders of Asking Matters, providing a variety of on-line tools to help people become more comfortable asking for gifts. To learn more about Asking Matters, go to You can also follow Asking Matters on Twitter @askingmatters.



  • I love the thought of asker as facilitator. What a great way to help build a partnership between the giver and the organization. Thanks!

  • This is such a great example that I can visualize a university professor lecturing a class for 45 minutes. Not what that team wanted to achieve.

    I work with volunteers whose “ask” is a donation and I find that many of them talk way too much because they are delaying the ask. I will be sharing these five points – they are great advice for asking of any size.

Leave a Reply