The Ask: Discovering How To Open Doors

Of course, everyone knows someone else that you should include in the earliest review of your case. Your job is to ask who those people are and to find out if the person suggesting those names can help you secure an appointment with them. Sometimes they can help get those appointments; sometimes not.

When unable to help open a door, a reviewer may be able to suggest another who can open that door. Ask about this, take good notes, and start connecting dots about who knows whom and who has influence with whom, and why this is so.

Your ability to strategize intelligently by sending the best people to make a serious “ask” for money later on can happen only if you truly have done your homework and, therefore, fully grasp how centers of influence operate.

A related question of supreme importance is, “Who absolutely must be involved with this project to assure its success?” The distinguishing difference between this question and determining who should be involved is subtle. What you’re seeking here is to understand where the absolute centers of power and influence exist in the present-day landscape. In some communities, a fundraising campaign will have no legitimacy without the involvement of select leaders. Your job is to know if this is so and to know exactly who those leaders are.

One question you will always ask, directly or indirectly, is about the interest your reviewer has in the project. In my series of blogs, I spell out a five-step process for all fundraising relationships. Look at the one titled “The Map to Major Gifts.” There you’ll learn why identifying interest, even small interest, is so critical to your success.

While you have face time with a donor prospect who is reviewing your case, you must use that precious time to surface his or her interests in your project. Even if the answers you get declare loudly that the person has no interest, you have to know why. Never shy away from discussing declared interest or declared lack of interest.

This knowledge is an important currency for later stages of relationship building. More than once in my career, I have heard donor prospects declare strongly that they were NOT interested in a project, but then I have heard them say, “If So-and-so were involved, then naturally I would take a closer look at this project.”


Yes, you read that correctly, and this kind of comment from a case statement reviewer demonstrates the point I continue to make in these blogs:

People give to people.

This is true for many reasons. One, just one, of those reasons is that people of influence are always currying favors with other people of influence. So, if Philanthropist A is involved and he or she is the biggest player in a community, then Philanthropist B will consider involvement just to curry favor with Philanthropist A, especially if Philanthropist A comes and asks B to get involved. This is how the world REALLY works.