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Role Play the Donor Relationship, Not Just the Ask

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by Tim Ardillo


So, I have been on a soapbox lately about a practice that we fundraisers often do – we role play the “ask” meeting. You know the drill – pair off and one of you be the donor and the other the solicitor. Then switch. Then debrief.


Not a bad practice at all and so helpful, but what do we spend most of our time doing with donors? DEVELOPING THE RELATIONSHIP. We hear it every day: Fundraising is the perfect blend of art and science and it is all about the relationship.


In my humble opinion, what we should be doing is role playing the relationship. This is the fun part (the art).

  • Talk to your donors about their families.
  • Ask them questions about what’s important to them.
  • Ahead of time think of all the ways that you can connect your donor to your mission in the natural way.
  • Call them when there is something special going on in your organization.
  • Forward an interesting article that you think might be of interest.
  • Invite them in when you have a speaker or to meet an expert in your organization’s mission.

During all of this (and more) you are developing the relationship and mutual trust and respect with your donor. Most importantly, when your donor speaks, “listen to understand and not just to respond.” After all, they should be doing the majority of the talking.


Additionally, why not spend our time planning the “moves” (the science) that we should be doing with each of our donors and prospects?

  • Know when their birthday is and send a card. Same goes with their anniversary or other special dates.
  • Plan to invite them to your stewardship events.
  • Decide when is the right time to have them in for lunch to meet with the CEO to talk vision of the organization.

Whatever you do make sure you are moving that donor along the relationship continuum and ultimately closer to making a gift. And, when it comes time to ask, they will expect it and it is natural. It should be easy and not something to get worked up over.


Now, this is not to say that you should not be role playing. On the contrary, you should. Especially when facilitating a solicitation that is to come from your CEO, board member or campaign chair. Oftentimes these are not natural occurrences for volunteers. Particularly when you are in a campaign and are working with a corps of askers (your campaign committee), it is good to know going in who is there to build rapport, who is there to serve as the peer, and who is actually going to make the ask.


As I step off my soapbox, I recommend that you continue to role play the ask when appropriate. However, we would all be better off if we spend the majority of our time role playing the relationship. Most importantly, wrap that up and get to practicing – get out the door and in front of your donors and prospects.