The Art of the “Ask”: Six tactics frequently ignored by nonprofit board members, CEOs and fund Developers

By: Eugene Fram       Free digital image

Nonprofit board members and managers have acquired a measured of savvy when it comes to raising funds for their organizations. They have learned that building trust with current and prospective donors is the key to maintaining meaningful support. Here are some overlooked tactics to further strengthen relationships. *

  1. Show the donors “what’s in it for them:” Some development officers still lead by focusing on what is of interest to them—the construction of a new building, providing funds for the nonprofit’s strategic development plan, etc.   But they often lack certain perspectives. These are the skills to effectively interact with business executives like those holding C-Suite positions. These senior managers value evidence that the nonprofit representatives have “done their homework.” Pre-meeting preparation must include generating information on the executive (s’) professional and career background(s) that is readily available from LinkedIn. Also it is necessary to have some information about the challenges the firm or its industry are encountering. This level of preparation helps set a basis for better communications and managerial discussions that C-Suite personnel value.

  1. Consistency: Be ready to clearly indicate that the nonprofit has a well-developed mission that is future oriented. A nonprofit with a record of financial results that consistently meets budget requirements is one example. Low turnover at the management and/or staff level is another. But also be ready to answer such visionary questions as, “How do you expect your organization to change in the next five years?”
  1. Reputation: Every nonprofit, large of small, has a reputation among its peers and the general public.   Be certain that the donor has a clear idea of what it is and is not a wish list of what it might be. Emphasize the impact data available, supported by outcome information.   For example, Family Service nonprofits are actually multi-purpose human service organizations. But the chapter names can deliver a different message—organizations devoted to family planning. As a result of this potential interpretation, the names of some chapters have been changed to e.g. Family and Children’s Service or Families First.
  1. Building Personal Relationships: Personal connections are the basic building blocks of donor relationships. Some professional development officers suggest that major donors should be thanked seven times. ** But thanking is only the beginning of a continuing process. Nonprofit CEOs and board chairs need to be proactive in visiting major donors on an annual basis, or more often if the donor wants more contact. The purpose here is not to seek additional funding but rather to reinforce a message related to mission impact. An invitation to a social event is another way of maintaining these connections. Sometimes a follow-up to a major donor can yield unusual results. I recently observed a situation where a board member made an effort to follow through   on a social event invitation to a long-term donor. It yielded a substantial contribution within 10 days of the event.   Every nonprofit board needs a proactive donor response program. These responsibilities should be noted in the CEO’s and Board Chair’s responsibilities.
  1. Be honest, even if that means saying “No”: When a gift involves undesirable mission creep or an unfunded charge to current assets, be prepared to say “No.” Universities, for example, have been known to accept buildings as gifts that can quickly become maintenance liabilities. Cash grants may have unfavorable strings attached tot them. Donor intent must clearly be understood. Princeton University had to return a large endowment when the donor’s heirs proved the university did not use it in a manner that confirmed the donor’s wishes.
  1. Open your Doors to Donors: Where possible, invite current and potential donors to the nonprofit’s offices or operational facilities. Even when the office is a series of enclosures or open offices, the visit gives the donors a feel for the culture and a chance to know the people dedicated to the mission.   A visit is even more helpful when the facility is an active one, such as a food distribution pantry, sheltered workshop or a call center.

The fog of the nonprofit board overviewing processes often obscures the importance of cultivating donor relationships that may, in time, fuel a nonprofit’s progress. The above review is a reminder to board members and management of their responsibilities to the artful pursuit of asking.


** For more details, see:


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