Farm Africa: ask for what you need’

Exhibited by
Richard Turner
September 11, 2009
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Individuals, major gift.
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

It’s all too easy to imagine the situation that faced fundraiser Richard Turner in this instructive anecdote. Try as we might, fundraisers aren’t always able to control the time, place and circumstances in which we have to make our request for support. Donors, usually inadvertently, sometimes create quite difficult circumstances and we fundraisers have to rise to this, most particularly when time is short. The lesson from this encounter is that as long as ‘the ask’ is right, it doesn’t matter where you are.

Creator / originator

Farm Africa

Summary / objectives

Imagine this scene: You have 48 hours to raise £50,000 to save a forestry project in Ethiopia. If you can do this, you’ll secure an even bigger grant of half a million pounds. You’re stuck in a meeting in a noisy tapas bar off an equally noisy street in London when your mobile phone rings. You’ve been expecting the call. It’s from a wealthy prospect who you know has a passion for trees. Do you make ‘the ask’ in the worst possible surroundings?


Farm Africa had just 48 hours to raise £50,000 or it would lose a grant worth £500,000 from DfiD, the UK Government’s Department for International Development, to fund a forestry project in Ethiopia (the charity had very little notice that DfiD had changed the matched funding aspect of the grant!).

The only option was to approach a major donor (but no one had ever given us that amount for years). An appeal mailing would take to long, as would a trust application.

But we did know of a wealthy individual who knew our President and had a passion for trees. The connection with our President got us in. I got through to the prospect’s personal secretary who said she would pass on the information and get him to call back.

The return call from the prospect came at the worst possible time – when I was in a noisy Tapas bar in a busy London street, the noise outside no better than that inside.

So, the ask had to made over a mobile phone. I explained the situation, ‘We need £50k”. “ I can’t give you £50k right now but I can give you half “ was the reply. We got the rest from a several other donors.

Influence / impact

The gift that Richard secured that day bridged the gap that secured the funds that saved the forest.


Not even the cost of a phone call (the donor phoned me).


£25k raised immediately and the start of a long-standing relationship


It is often the very basic principals of fundraising that get forgotten. To secure a major gift you don’t need a slick presentation or smart proposal. You just need three things in place

1) The donor knows your organisation and its cause.
2) He or she has wealth.
3) He/she has a passion that matches your funding need.

Get those three in place and any donor will be delighted to help. Have only two then find the third before bothering with an approach. It’s also a great way to rebut the all too common suggestion, ‘Let’s ask Richard Branson’ (or any other famous, high-profile donor). The reply to this should always be ‘OK, who knows him, what’s his passion and how does it relate to our need?’.

View original image
Despite the noisy surroundings it seems from the smile on Richard’s face that the prospect has just said yes!

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