For Impact


How to ask funders to follow a deadline

For Impact Ideas, Sales (Major Gifts) Process | | Nick Fellers

Use an Action Forcing Event

This one goes back in the memory banks. I can’t remember the project but I know I found myself in the living room of a very decorated and venerated stud (read: people-write-multiple-books-about-this-guy). He served high up in the State Department for many years and may even have held a cabinet position during the Reagan Years. To put it in perspective, he casually recalled a meeting he once had with Saddam Hussein ‘way back when!’

We were putting together a strategy to secure leadership funding when he said to me, “Nick, I think what we need in this instance is an Action Forcing Event.”

“Working in the State Department nothing was even accomplished without an Action Forcing Event. You see… we would just make up events and special ceremonies to create deadlines… to get people to make decisions. “


Every group project, whether it be a homework assignment in college or a $100M funding campaign comes down to getting a bunch of people to do something… in the case of the campaign it’s to MAKE DECISIONS… MAKE COMMITMENTS.

Without some sort of a timing rationale, these decisions are never made. Similarly, homework assignments in college are never finished until the night before they’re due.

Create and Action Forcing Event when you have a bunch of pending commitments and you need a reason to close. For example, after you’ve established the request, “Nick, we’re going to close this round of funding on October 15th [date of ask: July 27th]. Would it be okay to work with you to come to a decision before this date?”

On paper a request in July and a drop dead of date looks like a long time. It’s not. You’ve probably seen within your own organization requests that linger forever… years even. You can certainly close well ahead of October 15th but having this nominal ‘Action Forcing Event’ gives you a backstop… a rationale or reason to be really pushing for an answer at the end of September.

Other examples of Action Forcing Events:

  • “We need to have decisions by [Date] which will help us determine how to phase the project.”
  • “If we can secure $3M in commitments before May 16, we can go ahead with the build on the school starting this summer. Otherwise, we wait for another year. I’m going to be following up with you as we approach May for this reason.”
  • “Nick has agreed to match all pledges (up to a total of $1M) that we secure before Dec 31. I would like to follow-up with you ahead of this date because we could DOUBLE your commitment.”

The Takeaway: Include a ‘timing rationale’ in your request, or in your follow-up, that you can use as a deadline for a decision.