Of all the fears that development staff and fundraising volunteers have, at the top of the list is asking someone for money.  Just thinking of asking others for money can induce dry mouth, sweats, and nightmares.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as you think.  Here are a few quick tips to help you ask with confidence and calmness:

  • First, make sure that you’ve done your research.  Find out what the donor likes to support.  Take a look at their historical giving.  Talk to Board members and staff that know the donor.  Find out everything you can about the donor so that you can effectively match a gift request to their interests.  Above all, don’t make an ask in your first conversation with a potential donor.  This shows lack of preparation and will not end well for you.
  • Think of asking as a two (or three, or four…) step process.  First, engage the donor in a face to face conversation about your organization, its new programs and successes, the challenges you face and your plans to address the challenges.  Often, in this first meeting, it’s a good idea to say “I’m not here to ask you for money, I’d just like to catch you up on how we’re doing.”  This eases the tension immediately and encourages a conversation around your organization and its future.  The smart development staffer (or volunteer fundraiser) will ask the donor prospect for advice on how they might handle your organization’s challenges.  Remember, most donors got where they are because they are smart and sensible people.  Listen carefully when they share their opinions.
  • Before your second (or third, or fourth….) meeting, prepare how you will ask for support.  Practice the language you will use.  Think about how you’d like to be approached and consider using a similar approach.  When the time comes to make an ask, be direct.  Use language like this: “Susan, I’ve always admired your passion for children, and we need our strongest supporters to partner with us as we launch this new program, would you consider a $30,000 gift to help us meet our objectives?”
  • Some development staffers like to use a gift range when asking.  I prefer to use a single number.  When given a range, most donors will gravitate to the bottom of the range in their response.
  • Consider using a gift chart to show the number of gifts you’ll need to hit your annual/campaign/program/project goal.  Donors often like to see how they’re part of a larger group of supporters engaging around a fundraising effort.
  • Highlight others that have already supported your organization.  DO NOT share specifics about what other donors have given, but share the names.  Most people measure themselves against their peers and this can be an effective tool for persuading donors to give.

There are many other tips that could be shared around asking (perhaps for a future blog article).  In the meantime, remember, no two asks are the same.  To attempt to make every ask fit a standard equation is a mistake.  The most important thing is to begin asking today.  The more you do it, the more comfortable you get, the more you learn from your mistakes, and the more valuable you’ll become to your organization.