by Joe Garecht, The Fundraising Authority

As nonprofit fundraisers, we like to think of fundraising as a very linear process.  First, we find a new prospect.  Then, we cultivate that prospect.  Finally, we make an ask, either for the annual fund, a campaign we are running, an event sponsorship, or some other opportunity.  Hopefully, if things go well, that donor will donate again next year, perhaps even upgrading their gift level.  Then, it’s off to find the next prospect and repeat the whole process.

If this is the way your nonprofit thinks about fundraising, you probably spend a lot of time wondering why you can never find enough prospects to fill your pipeline.  Your nonprofit, like many others, is missing a key ingredient in the fundraising formula: The Second Ask.

What is “The Second Ask?”

Most fundraisers regularly practice the “first ask,” which is an ask for money.  Whether they are comfortable making asks or still working on their approach, most development professionals understand the importance of this ask.  Without getting gifts from donors on a regular basis, the work of the organization grinds to a halt.

But the second ask is just as important as the first.  The second ask is an ask for referrals.  It’s a conversation you have with a donor where you ask her if she would be willing to introduce you to some of her friends, coworkers, business partners or social network so that they can hear about the work of your nonprofit.  It is this second ask that allows you to leverage your supporters’ contact lists and build a true fundraising network for your organization.

Why is the Second Ask Important?

The second ask is important because it allows you to use social proof to quickly grow your prospect universe.  When a prospect is introduced to your organization by a friend or colleague, they are far more likely to set up a meeting or come to an introductory event than if they are approached by a stranger or through a letter or cold call.

Nonprofits intuitively know the power of referrals.  That’s why so many organizations spend so much time asking their board members to set up meetings and provide names for fundraising.  Yet very few non-profits take this knowledge to the next step, by asking donors who are not board members to refer new prospects.

I counsel nonprofits that I work with to make this second ask part of their standard fundraising timeline.  After meeting and cultivating new prospects, organizations should make the first ask, by asking for a monetary gift or pledge to the organization.  Then, the nonprofit should have a stewardship plan in place that includes not only moving the donor towards a second, larger gift in the future, but also arranges a time for the second ask to be made – an ask for referrals.

Remember – you shouldn’t make both asks at once.  When a donor agrees to make a gift to your organization, you should thank them and celebrate that gift, then continue to communicate with them through the stewardship process.  It is only after a period of stewardship and relationship-building that you should move the donor to the second ask.

How Do You Make the Second Ask?

Making the second ask need not be stressful or difficult.  Remember, you are speaking with a donor who supports what you are doing so much that he has financially invested in your success.  There is a high likelihood that, if cultivated correctly, he will now be happy to introduce his friends and colleagues to your work.

Approach the second ask the same way you approached the first.  In order to be successful, the ask must be direct (no wishy-washy, “we’d love to meet your friends” language), concrete (you have to ask for something specific, such as a phone call introduction or for the donor to invite her friends to an introductory event) and the ask has to be a question, not a statement.

Not every donor will be willing to make referrals for you, but many will.  Imagine the benefit to your organization when you have donors constantly introducing you to new prospects, many of whom come into the initial meeting or call with an innate trust of your non-profit, because it comes so highly recommended by a friend or business partner.

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