Picture this. Your prospect is a very busy business leader. You’ve arranged a pre-solicitation meeting and you were sure that everyone understood that this was just going to be an opportunity to talk about the project, the need and the campaign. About 2/3 of the way through the meeting, the prospect says, “This sounds really terrific, but I am leaving town for several weeks to oversee the opening of a new office facility across the country, so there will be no way that I can do a site visit.”
It’s dawning on you that you’re not going to be able to see this prospect face-to-face for a long time, and she was rated as one of your top prospects. You don’t want to waste this opportunity. What happens now?
Even when you thought it was just going to be a cultivation visit you might need to quickly formulate an “emergency” ask.
When it comes right down to it, getting some form of ask out there might be better than nothing. If you think an encounter like this is turning into your only or best shot at getting something from this prospect, go for it.
Now I’m calling it an “emergency” ask, but it really is something that you should have prepared in advance. Take the time to practice this ahead of time. If you need to make your emergency ask, you should be able to do it with confidence and without apologies. Further, if you are going on a solicitation call with another person as part of a team, make sure you discuss this ahead of time. Agree in advance who will say what, especially if the prospect goes off on a tangent or just cuts to the chase and asks for an ask, or as in this case, makes it clear that she’s not going to be around.
Here are some other possible responses…remember, you should make up one that feels natural for you. So when the prospects says, “Just tell me what you want.” You can say:
“This effort is going to require meaningful stretch gifts from us all, and I hope you will agree that this project is critical. I’ve gone the extra mile already, which is why I’m taking the time to talk to folks like you. What I would like is for you to consider joining me in making a sacrificial gift to this campaign.”
“Thanks for being open to an ask already, but this capital campaign is very big project, and there’s more I want you to see before we get to that. However, we would really appreciate your getting involved now as a donor to our ongoing programs. Can we count on you today for a major donor level gift to the Annual Fund?” Make sure you include a specific $$ amount.
“We would like you to join the other community leaders who’ve already shown their support by making a gift to this campaign. I know you care deeply about this issue, and I want to make sure you have the opportunity to play a part. Can we count on you today to do something special?”
Additionally, depending on which of these you might have used, you could simply follow up by suggesting a clear course of action for the prospect. “Tell me what works best with your schedule. Here are the next steps I see…First, visit our facility; second, meet with our CEO and third, consider financial commitment. Do you agree? Are there other steps you want to take? How do I best set these things up and communicate with you?” Assume that there are going to be future contacts of some sort, and go from there. But be sure to suggest some form of action.
So don’t be afraid and don’t freeze up when all of sudden the script has to be tossed and you just need to get something in front of the donor. Practice ahead of time and have that emergency ask in your back pocket.
This topic is one that we explored in “Just Tell Me What You Want: Answers to the Unexpected Things Prospects Say,” which was part of Extra Credit, a teleconference I hosted earlier this month. Many of the participants agreed that taking the time to think through how we can respond when prospects go off-script and surprise us is well worth it.