Making the Ask – Even Virtually

By Victoria Dietz, Vice President at The Curtis Group

Can you ask for a major gift via phone or over a video chat? Just over a year ago, this would not have been a strategy recommended by a seasoned fundraiser. However, the shutdown has rewritten the rule book for major gift asks and shown that with the right tools and a strong case, it is possible to close even the most significant of gifts virtually.

Just like when making an in-person ask, information and preparation are key to successfully closing a major gift in a virtual setting. Here are some key things to consider:

What is the new fundraising normal?

Fundraising is still about donor relationships, and best practices still apply. Your donors still want to hear from you: what has changed; how are you working creatively to meet your mission; and why do you still need their support? The biggest change is the role that technology now plays in the fundraising cycle. What used to only take place in-person now happens virtually. This has its pros and cons and also has required some shifts. On the positive side, there is an increased comfort level with technology across all ages and demographics. We have seen an increased willingness to accept meetings, because in a virtual setting travel schedules don’t paralyze the process. You are also still able to use non-verbal social cues and can still incorporate visual elements in your meeting. However, we must remember to be creative in this space. Do you have a short virtual tour you could share with your donors or a prerecorded case for support video? The biggest challenges of virtual fundraising center around the technology glitches and working from home shortfalls. But all in all, the new virtual fundraising normal, still allows for the fundraising cycle to proceed.

How do I plan for the meeting?

Schedule a prep call and include all individuals who will be in the meeting. Discuss the meeting flow, prospect research, ask amount and who will lead which part of the meeting. Consider multiple scenarios: can you include a tour (even virtually) as part of the meeting? Can you include a rendering to walk them through your vision? Could you bring a programmatic staff member into a portion of the meeting? Could a volunteer give a testimonial? Think strategically about the goals of the meeting and how you can structure it for ultimate success.

What logistics do I need to be aware of?

Similar to an in-person meeting, logistics matter. Check your technology, lighting, sound and internet. Confirm and resend the link the day before the appointment and consider sending a short virtual tutorial about the platform with the reminder. While you should be as prepared as possible, things can go wrong. Don’t panic and communicate if your meeting is interrupted.

What do I actually say when making the ask?

Start with a recap of what you learned earlier in the meeting or the last time you spoke. The meeting should start with some discovery questions so that you come to better understand why the donor is involved in your organization and what specifically about your organization excites them. Prior to making the ask, share a high-level overview of your vision, why it matters and how it is in alignment with what you learned about the donor’s interests. In the first half of the meeting, make an ask that includes a specific number or range and then STOP talking. Wait for the donor’s response. Depending on the response, make sure you have set clear follow-up expectations. If they agreed, ask how they would like to make their gift and how they would like to be acknowledged? If they need to think about the gift, set a timeframe for a follow-up call or meeting.

How do I keep them engaged after they give?

Donor stewardship is a critical component in the fundraising cycle. The bottom line of donor stewardship is to build relationships and trust with your donors that will ultimately result in continued and increased support and engagement. Look for excuses to reach out: success to report, benchmarks reached, new staff members. Watch a recent segment of “Let’s Talk Fundraising” as Abby Weber and I discuss successful donor stewardship, creative ways to engage your donors, focused on digital opportunities and how to communicate the importance of investing in donor stewardship with your board.

For a more thorough look at this topic, check out my presentation with my colleague Hilary Fulp.


Victoria Dietz’s experience covers an array of activities in development, from annual fund work to major gift and corporate development. In her role as vice president for The Curtis Group, she is responsible for a variety of clients’ planning studies, trainings and campaign management, overseeing a client portfolio spanning from Delaware through North Carolina. Victoria specializes in helping her clients strategically grow overall fundraising capacity and has worked with clients and volunteers to raise nearly $250 million in her eight years with the firm. A sought-after speaker and presenter herself, Victoria has served on the faculty of Tidewater Community College’s Academy for Nonprofit Excellence, Charlottesville’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence, the Virginia Fund Raising Institute, and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, and has also conducted national trainings for DonorSearch, Bloomerang and the YMCA.