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Asking A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers and  Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift

Jerold Panas


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Read an Interview with Jerold Panas

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Acclaim for Asking

“Enriches my soul and elevates the whole development profession.”

- Clark David Baker, President & CEO, YMCA of Greater Houston

“Jerold Panas has demonstrated again that he is truly the poet laureate of philanthropy.”

- Kenneth Roberts, Chairman of the Board, The Frist Foundation

“Jerry Panas knows everything about fundraising, but how does he know so much about me? In ASKING, he tells my story from ‘jitters’ to ‘joy.’ Your confidence grows from page to page.”

- Edmund Toomey, Chief Operating Officer, Lesley University

“This book is full of gems. There’s no better blueprint for those of us embarking on the adventure of asking."

- Jerold Katz, Head, The Park School

“ASKING leaves you with no excuses. Using a step by step approach, Jerry Panas describes clearly and succinctly how to ask for a gift. He makes the process sound like fun!"

- Donna D. Nicely, Director, Nashville Public Library

“Destined to become another often used, often quoted Jerry Panas Classic.”

- David Gillig, Senior V.P. & Executive Director, Rady Children’s Hospital Fdn

“ASKING is the best of the breed. I can testify from firsthand experience that if you ask the Panas Way, you shall receive."

- Dr. Hugh B. Price, Former President, National Urban League

“Demystifies the asking process and makes it easier for donors to be understood as rational, intelligent, and generous.”

- Dr. Richard Ekman, President, Council of Independent Colleges


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Just surpassed the 100,000 copy sold! Does your board have theirs?

A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift - NEWLY REVISED EDITION (2013)

by Jerold Panas, 108 pp., $24.95. (Click here for quantity discount information)

It ranks right up there with public speaking.

Nearly all of us fear it.

And yet it is critical to our success.

Asking for money. It makes even the stout-hearted cower.

But now comes a new book, Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Staff and Volunteers Must Know to Secure the Gift. And short of a medical prescription, it’s the next best thing for emboldening you, your board members and volunteers to ask with skill, finesse … and powerful results.

OF RELATED INTEREST: After spending just one hour with David Lansdowne’s bestselling book, Fund Raising Realities Every Board Member Must Face, board members everywhere will understand virtually everything they need to know to raise major gifts.

Jerold Panas, who as a staff person, board member and volunteer has secured gifts ranging from $50 to $50 million, understands the art of asking perhaps better than anyone in America. He knows what makes donors tick, he’s intimately familiar with the anxieties of board members, and he fully understands the frustrations and exigencies of staff.

He has harnessed all of this knowledge and experience and produced what many have called a landmark book.

What Asking convincingly shows — and one reason staff will applaud the book and board members will devour it — is that it doesn’t take stellar communication skills to be an effective asker. Nearly everyone, regardless of their persuasive ability, can become an effective fundraiser if they follow a few step-by-step guidelines.

You have to know your cause, of course, and be committed to it. But, nearly as important, you have to know how to get the appointment, how to present your case, how to read your donor’s words, how to handle objections, how to phrase your request, and even what behaviors to avoid.

Panas mines all of this territory, and because he speaks directly from his heart to the heart of board members, staff, and volunteers, the advice is authentic, credible, and ultimately inspiring.

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to the book is simply to say that any board member who doesn’t read Asking is at a serious disadvantage to those who do.

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About the Author

Jerold Panas is among a small handful of the grandmasters of American fundraisers.

He is considered one of the top writers in the field and a number of his books, including Asking and Mega Gifts, have achieved classic status. His newest book, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards is also published by Emerson & Church.

Hailed by Newsweek as "the Robert Schuller of fundraising," Jerry is a popular columnist for Contributions Magazine and a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops throughout the nation.

He is executive director of one of the premier firms in America and is co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. The very term "philanthropy" would mean less without Jerry's influence.

He lives with his wife, Felicity, in a 1710 farmhouse in northwest Connecticut.

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Table of Contents

  1. The Joy of Asking!
  2. Thanks for Being a Friend
  3. You’re Never a Loser Until You Quit Trying
  4. You Won’t Get Milk from a Cow by Sending a Letter
  5. Enthusiasm Is Contagious, Start an Epidemic
  6. Enlightened Givers Feel the Rapture of Being Alive
  7. It’s Easier to Get the Gift than the Visit
  8. Successful People Do What Others Never Get Around to
  9. The Secrets of Success Don’t Work Unless You Do
  10. No One Ever Listened Himself Out of a Gift
  11. Donors Give to the Magic of an Idea
  12. The Archer Strikes the Target, Partly by Pulling, Partly by Letting Go
  13. You’ll Never Know if You Don’t Ask
  14. Consistent Hard Work is the Yeast that Raises the Dough
  15. A Successful Fundraiser Shoots at a Target No One Else Sees, and Hits It
  16. Some Aim At Nothing and Hit It with Remarkable Precision
  17. The Line Between Success and Failure: ‘I Didn’t Make My Own Gift First’
  18. Triumph is Just ‘Umph’ Added to Try
  19. An Obstacle is What You See When You Take Your Eyes Off the Objective
  20. Objections Aren’t Bitter If You Don’t Swallow Them
  21. Great Opportunity Stands Beside You, in the Form of Objections
  22. A Desk is a Dangerous Place to Raise Money from
  23. It’s Amazing What You Don’t Raise When You Don’t Ask
  24. You Don’t Have to be Great to Start, but You Have to Start to be Great
  25. In All You Do, Act as if It’s Impossible to Fail

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Excerpt This article is excerpted from Jerold Panas’ book, Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019.

If You Didn’t Get the Gift, Here’s Why

If you didn’t get the gift – and in some instances you won’t -- there are usually ten “horrid reasons.” There may be more, but these are the primary ones.

You may find that it’ll take a call or two before you’re able to avoid them all. I know in my own solicitations, my immediate instinct was to pull the shades, and devote the rest of my life to reading the collected works of Emily Dickinson.

But I soon learned that the mark of a successful and motivated fundraiser is the ability to distinguish a temporary setback from a defeat. I’ve been blessed with an invincible spirit (you will be, too, if you stick with it). 

It’s not a matter of whether you get knocked down. You do. It’s whether you get up again. And I do. Giving up is the ultimate tragedy. Failure is not the crime -- low aspirations are. Here are the ten “Horrid Reasons” to avoid.

1. Didn’t make the call to set up the visit.    
You committed the most grievous act of all. You never telephoned to set up the visit. You kept putting it off. Then you stared at the phone. And you stared. You hoped it would ring so you wouldn’t have to punch in the number. But it didn’t ring. You gathered up your material and walked away. Coward!

2. Inadequate Preparation.    
You didn’t take time to prepare or to know your prospect. And you didn’t practice. You thought you could wing it. You went dashing into the session thinking: “I’ll make the call and get it over with.” You got the kind of results you deserved. George Allen, one of history’s greatest football coaches, says that winning can be defined as the science of being totally prepared.

3. Anxiety.    
You were nervous, insecure, and uncomfortable. It wasn’t an easy visit, and it showed.
Chances are, if you were properly prepared and had practiced, you could have overcome this. There’s no reason to be nervous. You know what must be done. You know the drill.  Be at ease. There are those who simply won’t be interested in your great cause. That’s okay, they have a different agenda. There’s nothing you could have done to change their mind. Go on to the next prospect.

4. Assuming Too Much.    
You called on someone who you felt knew a good bit more about the institution and the project than was actually the case. You jumped to the ask too soon because you assumed too much.  Or you called on someone who had been actively involved in the institution for a period of years. You took for granted she’d be interested in the project.  You felt no need to interpret, to sell the dream, to discuss how important her gift would be. That’s what you thought! You asked for the gift too soon -- you leaped from step one to step nine. You lose.

5. Failure to Probe.    
The prospect was nodding in approval, smiling and throwing off all the positive physical signs during your entire presentation. Even the body language seemed right. You left thinking you’d made the case, made the sale. But you failed to probe for any concerns, determine whether there were lingering questions. You realize that George Bernard Shaw said it all in the title of his wonderful play, You Never Can Tell. You didn’t ask the Four Magic Questions. If you don’t probe, you haven’t even begun to make the ask.

6. Poor Listening.
You talked too much, you listened too little. You never found out how the prospect felt about the program because you spent all of your time talking. You failed to “listen the gift.”The more attentive you are in listening to others, the more likely they will listen to you. Give your undivided attention to the prospect. The person asking the questions -- that’s you -- is in control of the conversation. An attorney examining and probing a witness is a prime example. He questions, probes, examines, directs the interrogation and the content of what the judge and jury hear. The person who listens influences the outcome, not the talker. You are in charge. Listen!

7. Too Much on Features and Not Enough on Benefits.  
You spent your time going over details and speaking about features (the gymnasium will be regulation size, the new center will have nine Conference Rooms, the new Library can house 40,000 volumes). You pulled out the fancy brochure and reviewed the floor plans. But you failed to notice that the prospect’s eyes had glazed over.  You spent too much time talking about money and not enough about the results and outcomes that could be expected from the prospect’s investment. The purpose of your presentation isn’t to sell a program or a building. It’s to help the prospect to visualize and enter into the world of the end result.  You didn’t take enough time talking about how the program would save or change lives. You missed your golden opportunity.

8. Premature Selling.    
You asked for the gift and made a brilliant close but you didn’t take any of the necessary preliminary steps. You hadn’t taken time to make the program properly irresistible. You hadn’t probed for concerns or asked enough questions and taken time to listen. You found the prospect nodding in agreement and you took that as a sign that you had finished the job. You raced from first to third base, without touching second.

9. Win-Win.
You spent all of your time talking about how important the program was for the institution and how it would meet its needs. You may have even shown the prospect a Gift Table and talked about the importance of major gifts (as if the prospect would make a sizable gift just because the institution needed it or the campaign would fail without it).  You didn’t talk about those who would be served. More important, you didn’t talk about how it would benefit the donor. You forgot your organization doesn’t have needs. Those you serve have needs, and the gift you seek will help provide the solution.

10. Didn’t Ask.
The most heinous sin of all -- you didn’t ask.  You made a brilliant presentation, you asked all the right questions, you probed. You followed every step. It was a glorious session. One small omission -- you left before actually asking for the gift. You were so pleased with your performance, you forgot the last Act!  In my earlier days I was guilty of the same crime. Actually, in some cases, I was pleased to get out alive without having to make the dreaded ask. I could feel my tongue getting thick, my throat as dry as the Sahara.  If you wait for the perfect time, perfect conditions, the perfect opportunity when everything is just right (and the stars and the moon are in perfect alignment), you’ll never ask. 

Go ahead, ask for the gift. And take comfort in the fact that it’s not the eloquence of your presentation which will determine your success or failure. It’s the simple act of asking.  One thing is certain: if you don’t ask, you won’t get the gift.

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Interview with Jerold Panas

What led you to the topic of fundraising habits?

I work with organizations all over the country, of all sizes, of all types. From YMCAs to colleges to hospitals – and many in between. The budgets range from $1 million a year to $2.6 billion.
And what I’ve noticed is a common thread woven through each. When an organization is vital, providing outstanding service, and balancing its budget – I find a board that practices very specific habits. Particularly fundraising habits. I wanted to write about these and how they impact an organization.

How many boards would you say you’ve worked with?

Keep in mind, I’ve been at this a long time! I suppose in my 40 years of consulting, I’ve actively worked with somewhere between 300 to 400 boards.

And roughly how many of them have had a majority of the habits you write about?

Most boards practice a good number of the habits. Only a few can claim them all. One thing, though – it’s easy to spot the organizations where the boards don’t exercise many of the habits. They stumble along.

If you had to single out, say, the top two habits that would carry an organization the furthest, what would they be?

Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I’d say, first is you don’t allow a mission deficit. It’s pretty easy for an organization to balance its budget. It can keep cutting expenses, services, staff, maintenance— and by doing this, maybe save enough money to operate in the black.The problem is, when a board does this, it creates a mission deficit. The organization no longer has a real purpose. And that’s far worse than a financial deficit. The second key habit I’d mention is, board members must be advocates for the organization. Roaring advocates. Burning in their bones for the work you do. If they’re not, they probably should be home tending their garden.

In terms of fundraising, are boards as important today as they were in the past?

No – they’re far more important. It’s a complex environment we live in. The competition for market share and philanthropy is unrelenting. If a board doesn’t embrace the habits I describe, the organization’s future is without spirit and hope. Dreams die, sometimes fast – other times it’s slow and grueling.

Staff seem to be doing more and more of the soliciting these days. Is that a positive development?

It’s true. I find staff doing more of the asking. And some are extremely good at it.
But my experience confirms that when staff and volunteers work together, it’s a magic partnership. There’s nothing more important in getting the gift than having a board member join staff in making the ask. It’s an unbeatable combination.

A study was just published called Daring to Lead 2006. Something like 70 percent of the executive directors interviewed said they needed more help from their boards with fundraising. Why the resistance?

Part of it may be the fault of the recruiting process. I’ve seen it so many times. A person is recruited but not told that one of the major responsibilities is to assist with fundraising. “Well, they never told me I’d have to call on others for money” is a common refrain I hear from trustees. Shame on the organization! It may not be as much a matter of resistance as board members not knowing – right from the outset – what’s expected of them. My experience is that trustees will stand on tiptoes if they understand their role. That’s where the staff come in. It’s up to them to make fundraising a joy— and it is if undertaken properly.

A joy! Come on now. Isn’t that expecting the impossible?

It takes some practice, knowing the right technique, and some help from a staff person or volunteer. But when you ask for a gift and you’re successful, there’s nothing quite like it. There’s a surge, a high, exhilaration. Ask any of your successful solicitors and they’ll confirm what I’m saying.

Can someone be a great board member and not raise money?

Successful board members bring many attributes to the table. They give, and the organization on whose board they serve is one of their primary philanthropies. They work hard and use their influence. And of course, they do their darnedest to make wise and thoughtful decisions. But you can’t deny that one of the most important responsibilities for a board member is to ask others to support the organization. I give that a high priority. It’s a habit that must be developed, practiced, and sustained.

When recruiting, can an organization spot a trustee who will be a great fundraiser?

Good fundraisers aren’t born — they’re made. There are some who come to the organization with a real talent for fundraising and enjoy it. But for the others, I’m convinced they can become great fundraisers if they’re coached properly and have a passion for the organization. Passion becomes the essential ingredient. So yes, you can spot them – if they have high aspirations and dedication to the organization.

Describe the oddest experience you’ve ever had with a board.

I’ll tell you one that was very odd … and very exciting. Several years ago, the Menninger Clinic moved from Topeka to Houston. For a number of reasons, it was a smart decision. At one of their regular board meetings, the session ended with trustees filling out one of those typical information forms. You know – name, phone, birth date, preferred mailing address, cell phone, that sort of thing. The forms were collected and a few days later turned over to the IT person. As she went through each form, entering the data, she noticed a note on the back of one. It said: I wish to make a pledge of $25 million to the project we discussed at the board meeting. I’ll make payments over the next few years. He signed his name. The IT person wasn’t certain whether this was a joke or for real. Nothing had been mentioned at the board meeting and the trustee hadn’t talked to anyone about it before (or since, for that matter). She went to the Vice President, who was dumbfounded. A call was made to the trustee and the conversation went something like this: “We happened to notice on the back of your information form a note that … well, a note you signed, indicating quite a substantial gift. Uh … I wanted to make sure this was indeed your intent." It was in fact the board member’s intent and the first payment has already been made.

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