You and your dean sit together across the dinner table from a donor whose financial capacity and interest you know to be very high. She has made contributions to the university before, but never to your college. However, her personal experiences would make a relationship with your college very meaningful for her. After months of discussion, you feel the time is right to ask for a contribution, and the dean is the right person to deliver the ask. Is he ready?
One of the top concerns deans and other academic leaders express is their fear of actually asking for money—the precise moment in the donor relationship known as “The Ask.”
Fear of asking for money, or “askophobia,” can occur when the academic leader places too much importance on that part of the donor journey. Help the academic leaders you work with to remember that relationships with donors are actually comprised of many asks, none of which are more important than the others. When we request a meeting and a donor says yes, this is a successful ask. It is also an expression of the donor’s interest in a philanthropic relationship with your organization. Likewise, as donors deepen their commitment, this growth is the result of being asked to engage more deeply by degrees.
Our research has overwhelmingly indicated that major gift asks are most successful when the donor and everyone involved knows what is coming and is on board with the direction that the conversation has taken. One university president told us, “If a donor is surprised by the ask, you’ve done your cultivation all wrong.” The same can be said for the dean or academic leader. The engagement process has two major facets: cultivating donor relationships thoughtfully and strategically, and making sure the academic leader is strategically involved and fully informed.
Finally, a close partnership between the dean and development professional throughout the process will help eliminate much of the mystique commonly associated with “the major gift ask.” Before a commitment meeting, both you and your dean should know what roles each will play during the meeting, what amount you will ask the donor to contribute, and how the question will be delivered. Involve the dean in the process fully, taking steps to prepare him or her to participate with confidence.
As engagement with philanthropy becomes increasingly important for academic leaders, you may consider attending an Advancement Resources public workshop for academic leaders and their development partners. Follow the link below for information about our upcoming public offering of the Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders workshop.