Taking the mystery out of ‘the ask’

By Joanne Linka (November 7, 2019)

Empowerment Dialogue: A New Approach to Fundraising by Ken Ramsay, Civil Sector Press, 2016, 106 pp., $31.95

Have you ever slogged through a book — especially one for work — and reached page 239 and thought: “this book could have been written in 50 pages and spared me the time and boredom of the extra 189 pages?!?” When an author feels the need to give five illustrations for the same point, I begin to wonder if they are being paid by the word rather than by the concept. 

Let me say, Ken Ramsay is NOT one of those authors. Empowerment Dialogue: A New Approach to Fundraising is 90 pages of experience-based wisdom, clear steps and practical encouragement. No frills, no fuss — just a concise and well written how-to book. 

“The underpinning belief of fundraising is that the donor will only do what she wants to do. Our task as fundraiser is to empower a donor by having her discover her latent generosity and enable her to make the gift! I believe that the best way to do this is through dialogue with that prospective donor.”

Ramsay shares an 8-step cycle of philanthropy and then clearly outlines the dialogues that go along with each step. 

As fundraisers, we have looked at many lists of questions to ask donors, from why they want to make the gift to how they want to do it. Ramsay divides these questions up into separate dialogues, each with a goal of moving the donor further in the empowerment cycle until they are ready to commit to a gift. He continually stresses that the conversation is about listening, reflecting the donor’s thoughts and showing respect for their feelings and values. 

He transposes the all-important relational questions into a format in which the transaction (of soliciting a gift) becomes attainable and accessible. 

Ken Ramsay

This is not rocket science — but it is presented in a new and infinitely useable way that doesn’t take 10 hours of reading to grasp. His method is nuanced but simple, flexible but with structure and of use for those who are talking to donors at all stages of the philanthropic journey. For those fundraisers who are terrified of  “the ask,” this approach gives the steps leading up to the ask that make the actual ask almost redundant… certainly not the big scary beast of a conversation that some fundraisers think that it is. 

Ramsay’s closing thought is this: 

“Think of the empowerment dialogue approach as a new tool in your toolbox: to try out, to integrate into your current practice, to deal with a particular donor or to use the majority of the time. It’s up to you.” But here is the difference between this tool and so many others:  you don’t need a weekend workshop to learn how to use it, or a 1000-page manual to learn how to log in. A couple hours of reading and some practice will give you a tool that will serve you well in all conversations — not just the ones with donors.”

(Joanne Linka is Manager of Communication and Fund Development at The Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria BC – the oldest running charity in Western Canada.)

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