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2.3 Developing your ability to ask

There are two related ways in which you can develop your ability to ask for resources and support. The first is rooted in your performance and highlights some of the key behaviours of asking. The second starts from an understanding of the overall process you are engaged in.

As far as performance is concerned, Box 1 summarises some of the accumulated wisdom about how to organise your behaviour as you conduct an interview with a ‘prospect’, and relates to both small and major contributions.

Box 1 How to ask someone directly for a contribution

  • Make it a special occasion: It’s worth thinking carefully about the setting and timing of any request for major support.
  • Dress appropriately: If it is a face-to-face meeting, then respectful, non-verbal communication is an important part of the process of asking.
  • Set yourself and your prospect at ease: Always allow some time for you and your prospect to settle yourselves into the encounter.
  • Establish some form of mutuality: Pay attention to your prospect’s motives, aspirations and concerns. It is important to acknowledge difference and their right to be who they are and, at the same time, to establish a basis of common interests.
  • Explain who you are: Be very clear about what you and your organisation do and do not do. Be proud of its accomplishments. Be specific. Do not apologise for wanting a financial contribution. Invite and answer questions.
  • Ask for a specific amount of money: Make a precise request along the lines of ‘I would like you to contribute £1,000 to the museum.’ Then remain silent! It is inappropriate to hustle people. If an uncomfortable amount of time passes, ask them whether they have any questions.
  • Listen and respond appropriately: If the response is non-committal, work on the relationship and present your case more carefully. If the response is positive, restate what has been promised to make sure you have understood it correctly. Make a written agreement there and then – do not leave your prospect to contact you later – they rarely will. If the response is negative, it may well be that you can make a further approach another day with a different request to which they will respond more positively.
  • Always say thank you: Where possible, send a personal thank-you letter, email or text within forty-eight hours, no matter what you receive.