Major Gifts Now: How to Ask Donors for Support During Covid-19

By: Nadine Gabai-Botero

June 10, 2020

As a part of the Catalogue of Philanthropy Webinar Series, in May I hosted Major Gifts Now: How to Ask Donors for Support During Covid-19. During the session, I covered all the important aspects of interacting with donors and potential donors during a difficult time, from whether or not to ask, how to strike the right tone, best practices to secure a meeting, and how to solicit a donor or prospect via a video call

The Ask

Before all else, ask yourself: “is this the right time for your organization to make an ask?” Consider your donor(s), your financial and programmatic needs, your constituents to make the determination. Even if you decide it isn’t the right time to ask for donations, you should still reach out and connect with your donors and prospects! Your donors care about you and want to know how you are doing.

If you decide to make an ask, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. When fundraising during a crisis, the worst thing you can do is stay quiet. 
  2. Think through what you need -- and why -- before you reach out. 
  3. Be ready to tell stories about your work, your mission, and your constituents in different ways.
  4. Stay authentic and relevant. Reflect the current situation but stay positive and forward-looking.

Empathy & Tone

During a crisis, it is extremely important to express empathy and compassion in any interactions with donors or prospects, especially when asking for a donation. Before you reach out to your major donors, consider what they may be dealing with and shift your message to reflect that. Ask questions about how your donors are doing. During this time, it is the little things that count, and when the pandemic is over, your audience will remember how you reached out and tried to be there for them. 

Getting to a Solicitation

For major donors you know well:

Demonstrate how you’re navigating the pandemic through programs/services or engagement with your constituency. Gauge their response when you inform them about the shift in your initiatives. What questions are they asking? Are there volunteer opportunities for them? Since many people are visual, try to include photos or videos to demonstrate how your work has been impacted.

For major donor prospects you’re still getting to know:

A good way to help these donors get to know you a bit better is to host a webinar, town hall, or online event, providing a way for them to learn about the opportunities of your organization. Encourage your board members and major donors to invite their friends/colleagues to attend. After the event, reach out to those that attended and provide them with an opportunity to talk with someone from your organization or let them know about volunteer opportunities. Overall, the goal is to inform and engage. 

Once You’ve Secured an Ask Meeting

After you have secured a meeting, determine if it will take place through video chat or phone, depending on the prospect’s preference. If you’ll be asking for a gift, plan for how much you are going to ask and why, and be prepared for any questions they may have. Practicing in advance is vital to your success (I like to talk through an ask before meeting with a donor. Try it in front of a mirror or just sitting at your desk!) 

Consider creating a virtual slide deck that includes pictures, videos, and statistics that come along with stories in order to give the prospect a well-rounded perspective of your organization and its mission. The deck should be about 10 minutes long so you make sure there’s plenty of time for discussion during and after. 

Steps in Virtual Solicitation

Think through what you are asking for in advance. If it’s financial support, let them know the details of why the funds are needed and why now. For volunteering/in-kind support, first start with asking for financial support and then shift to these other opportunities. If you don’t think a larger gift is possible at the moment, consider asking for smaller monthly gifts as another option.

  1. The first step in a virtual solicitation is share who you are, your role with the organization, and let them know you reached out because of their past support (or their interest in your programs, services, or work).
  2. Ask how their family is and how the past few months have been for them.
  3. Listen and stay engaged. Don’t rush!
  4. Let them know how your organization and staff are doing, and how your programs/services have changed as a result of COVID-19.
  5. Focus on how you’ve adapted and your impact on the individuals you serve and meeting the greatest needs for your constituency

Example: For the past 5 weeks, we’ve been providing virtual tutoring to high school students, and have recruited 25 new volunteers to teach this summer

Make sure this is a dialogue. Plan to ask some questions! Here are some samples:

  • We really value your commitment to our mission. Can I ask what led to your first gift five years ago?
  • How are you thinking about your philanthropy now that we’re dealing with COVID-19?
  • What role do you see yourself playing to help those in need?
  • Do you have specific questions about the shifts we’ve made in our programs/services?

Questions let your audience know you are engaged and truly want to get to know them a bit more, especially when it comes to their interest in your organization. 

  1. Mention the reason for your call again:
  • to see how they’re doing 
  • to share an update on your organization’s work
  • to find out if they’d be interested in hearing how they can help
  1. The ask is similar to what you would say in an in-person solicitation:

Would you consider making a $2,500 contribution to support our ongoing work over the summer, including advocacy efforts to ensure reproductive rights are secure and women have access to doctors when they need it?

After your ask, stay silent for a little in order to give your donor some time to reflect and respond. Listen to their response, because what they say offers clues to next steps.

Let me talk to my husband. I think this is something we can do, but I may want to do this in two payments.

Now isn’t a good time since we’re helping our son and daughter-in-law cover some expenses. Can we revisit this in the fall?

Make sure you are actively listening in order to consider your solicitation in light of how they’re answering and how they’re doing now.

Following Up

Here are some examples of follow ups after the donor responds to your ask: 

For donors who say yes:

That’s terrific. We really appreciate your support and generosity. It will make such a difference to the [kids, community, artists, scientists, our mission].

Would you be interested in making your gift a match challenge? This would enable us to leverage your support during our next campaign and encourage others to match your gift.

For donors who are not ready to commit:

I understand your concerns. Should I check in with you at a later date?

Finally, something worth remembering is to try and avoid “crisis language.” Donors respond more to appeals during a crisis, but make sure to identify the crisis as one for those you serve (program/service beneficiaries) rather than an organizational crisis for your nonprofit.

I hope these suggestions help in your outreach! Let us know how your fundraising is going as you stay socially distant and safe.