A while back I downloaded a copy of Mark Pitman’s “Ask Without Fear” and I recently was able to sit down and give it the focused read it deserved. Pitman introduces his experiences in fundraising and shares the acronym REAL as how to experience success: Research, Engage, Ask, and Love. The work is divided into the various sections of REAL, and he is deliberate in supporting his assertions with personal anecdotes and his own professional experiences.
The first section of REAL, research, begins with an account from Pitman of an “ask” that took place on the anniversary of an accident which rendered the donor a widow. Pitman stresses the importance of understanding the donor, timing the ask, and how research can ease the process of fundraising. From gift tables to tiered goals, Pitman explains that large donation targets require support from large and small gifts. Pitman then works his way through the resources we have for research: university databases, old paper files, and even the ability to outsource prospect research to vendors like Blackbaud. Wherever the research originates, Pitman encourages the reader to be comfortable objectifying information and to remember that research is merely the first step.
The book moves onto the engagement portion, where Pitman discusses the value of relating donor interests to the cause and getting to know the donor beyond their checkbook. When the time comes to engage the prospect, providing them with a unique experience can distinguish your organization and bring them closer to the services the nonprofit provides. In house information, mailings, and close communication keep prospects and donors in-the-know without a high-end pricetag.
Pitman shifts the next section toward the actual ask, and begins immediately at setting up the appointment. I found this section to be the most educational, as Pitman discusses how to make the ask, from props and tools during the conversation to how to get something out of the meeting even if the prospect declines, such as referrals to other prospects. He also spends time discussing how to make the ask tangible in the eyes of the donor, like when Heifer Project tells donors $120 is a pig and $20 is a chicken. Later portions of this section cover rejection, objection, and other hiccups in the ask process.
The final section of the REAL process, love, took me by surprise; I was expecting a chapter on donor stewardship, but instead I got a lesson on how to continue cultivating a relationship even if a prospect declines to support the cause. Pitman stresses the importance of lifelong relationships and how each donor is unique.
Pitman also devotes time to fundraising myths, which range from reliance on spell-check to providing prospects with too many options when deciding their commitment level. He also spends time encouraging fundraisers to put themselves in the donors shoes, in addition to utilizing a special assessment to classify donors better. Pitman includes his resources at the end of the work, providing a wealth of additional information should questions linger after reading.
Overall, I found this to be a great, short read; this is a quick how-to that could be read in an evening, and I think would be very informative to new fundraisers or nonprofit staff who haven’t been on an ask before.
For more information about Marc or his book, please visit his website.