Fundraising Q&A: Asking a friend for a major gift

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A close friend of mine frequently makes significant gifts to her favourite causes. I sit on the board of a charity; how do I get her to support mine?

Ask and you shall receive is a good place to start! However, don't expect an instant gift without doing your homework. That said, remember, people give to people they know and trust so it's an excellent place to start.


This example is a good demonstration of my mantra...Linkage — Ability — Interest. The fact that she is (1) a close friend who (2) gives significant gifts means you're already on second base. There is an established connection (Linkage) and she has demonstrated a track record of major gifts to other charities (Ability).

In order to get to third base you need to understand what motivates her philanthropy (Interest). You may already know what charities she supports. If so it's relatively simple to go on their websites, look at the annual reports of her favourite causes and identify at what level she donates. Someone can be a major donor to one charity that they love and only give a token gift to others. That's useful background information for your cultivation strategy.

If you don't know where she donates you can always ask her. That's the easiest and most direct way to conduct your prospect research, straight from the source. If you aren't comfortable with that approach you need to ask yourself whether you'll be able to solicit a gift from her when the time comes. One of the factors that fundraisers want to know about Linkage is whether the canvasser can actually influence the prospect's decision, which isn't too difficult if you share a passion.

There are online services available to research prospective donors but information about individuals is not a priority (despite the fact that 80% or more of private sector funds come from that source). These tools are costly enough that fundraising departments need to budget accordingly. What they will tell you is whether your friend sits on any corporate or charitable foundation boards; that may be helpful but you're currently looking for a personal gift.

The tried and true method nowadays is Google. You can type in her name along with "donor", "donation", "support", "campaign" or a similar fundraising synonym. Provided she isn't making anonymous gifts various charities will appear. The links provided will probably take you straight into a donor list or Annual Report where you can see at what category or level (gift range) she gives.

Another way to identify if she sits on any corporate boards is through the Directory of Directors. Twenty years ago that book along with the Canadian Who's Who and the Foundation Directory were vital resources to any serious development department but since we have such sophisticated search engines these texts are helpful but less necessary.


You need to engage your friend in a dialogue and learn more about her priorities. Effective fundraising is less about WIIFM (What's in it for me — or the charity) and more about understanding your prospect or donor. You want to offer investment opportunities — within your organization's strategic plan — that you believe would inspire their gift.

A fundraising adage I?ve shared before is if you want advice, ask for money...if you want money, ask for advice. The goal is to help people play a role in the charity's success. Keep in mind the ramifications of completely ignoring their input and ground the conversation in the charity's mission and strategic priorities.

Think your questions through so you can get the most from the conversation and then listen intently. Typically, an open question allows for a richer response than one that's closed (yes/no answer). Here are some samples (which still lean toward your charity's needs so don't forget you want to learn more about her motivations first) that are inspired by Karen Osborne:

  • I noticed (organization) received an extraordinary gift from you, what made their request so compelling?
  • What do you know about the work of our organization?
  • What is your understanding of our effectiveness in the community?
  • Have you (read or heard) our (vision for the future), (strategic plan), (bold ideas for future), (the benefits we see in this project)?
  • Are there other ways our organization could help solve this problem?
  • In what ways might you help us address these issues?
  • What other organizations do you currently support? Volunteer for? Serve on the board of?
  • Which are your top three? Why is that?
  • Where is our organization on your list (if not among the top three)?
  • Have you ever made a gift using a planned giving vehicle like a trust or annuity? How did that come about? Is that something that interests you? Do you feel knowledgeable about such vehicles? Would you like to know more?
  • What would it take to make a stretch, capital gift to a charity? To our organization?
  • Among our fund raising priorities, which do you find the most compelling? Why? Least compelling? Why?
  • My spouse and I make all of our giving decisions together, how does it work in your household?

In next month's column, I'll discuss how to go about actually making the ask.

Cynthia Armour is a freelance specialist in fundraising and governance. A Certified FundRaising Executive (CFRE) since 1995, she volunteers as a subject matter expert with CFRE International. She works with boards and senior staff to ensure that strong leadership will enhance organizational capacity to govern and fundraise effectively. Contact Cynthia directly at 705-799-0636, e-mail, follow her on Twitter at @CynthiaJArmour, or visit for more information about her services.

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Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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