How to Ask Anyone for Anything

by Joe Garecht

Asking someone for a donation, or to come to an event, on behalf of your school, church, or non-profit need not be a harrowing affair.  Making an ask can even be (gulp!) a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The three important areas to consider in making an ask are: relationships, planning, and process.  More on all three below.

Relationships Matter!

The most important thing you can do, as someone who is fundraising, is to build deeper relationships between your prospect and the organization you are fundraising on behalf of.  Sure, bringing in a $100 check is nice, but building a strong relationship that results in 100 volunteer hours, $1,000 in donations, and several new contacts, all over three or four years, would be much more valuable.

Because relationships matter, don’t rush your fundraising asks (unless your charity is in dire straits).  Harvey Mackay famously wrote a business networking book called, “Dig Your Well before You’re Thirsty.”  That’s good advice in non-profit fundraising as well.  Raising money is hard enough… it’s doubly hard when your first contact with someone is an ask for money.

A better strategy is to, as often as possible, make your first a non-monetary ask.  Build relationships with your prospects – ask them to come to a free event, read your case for support, sign-up for your newsletter, volunteer at your office.  Get them involved (or at least have one introductory conversation about your charity that is not based on seeking a donation), then ask them to give.  Build relationships that last, whenever possible.

Planning the Ask

Before you make any ask, whether it is for money or for time, for tickets to an event, or to attend a free seminar, be sure you’re ready:

1.  Decide Who You Are Asking: Who are you asking?  Is it an individual?  A company?  An organization?  What person in the company would be best to ask?  Should you make the ask to your friend… or to his wife?  Etc.

2. Decide What You Are Asking For: Are you asking for money?  How much?  Are you asking someone to come to an event or to volunteer?  When?  In what capacity?

3. Understand That There Will Be “No’s”: And that’s ok!  Fundraising is like baseball… even the best, most experienced practitioners receive lots of “no’s.”  Don’t let them get you down.  They’re part of the game.

4. But Expect a Yes: Attitude matters in fundraising.  If you go into a fundraising ask assuming you will get a no, you probably will.  Remember, your organization’s mission matters!  Go into every fundraising ask expecting a yes, and asking for a yes.

5. Show People How They Can Make a Concrete Difference or Reach a Concrete Goal: People like to know that their donation is doing something specific and concrete.  If at all possible, ask them to contribute to help do something specific, even if it is only to help you reach your own personal fundraising goal.  For example, “Would you contribute $50 to pay for 25 meals for the homeless?” or “I’m trying to raise $1,000 for the Boy Scouts.  Will you donate $100 to help me reach that goal?”

The Process: Anatomy of an Ask

Great, you say: I’ve built relationships, I’ve planned out my ask.  But Joe, tell me… how do I actually make an ask?  The best way to make an ask (any ask, whether for money, time, volunteer hours, or anything else) is by following these simple steps:

1. Get the pleasantries out of the way.  Talk about the kids, the family, work, the last time you saw the other person.  Get the small talk out of the way first.

2. Make a transition.  Once the small talk is out of the way, make a transition so that people know the topic has changed to something far more serious.  Good transitions include, “Listen… I want to talk about something important,” “I’ve got a serious question for you,” or, “Jane, I need your help.”

3. Make the connection.  Once you’ve moved into more serious conversation through your transition, remind the prospect of the connection that you personally have with the organization, and that they have with the organization (if they have one).  For instance, “Jim, as you know, I’ve been on the board of the Farmer’s Assistance Fund for three years now…” or, “Colleen, you’ve been to three events at the Rising Sun School now, and have volunteered at our annual community day…”

4. Make them cry. Ok, that’s a little overboard.  But you want to make sure that the person you are talking to understands the impact of your mission.  Remind them what your charity does, and why it is important.  Good examples are, “Samuel, every day, hundreds of people are diagnosed with XYZ disease, and each year 2,500 will die because they can’t afford the medication they need to treat their affliction” or “Janet, I’m heartbroken when I look into the faces of these former child soldiers.  I see such pain, and I can’t believe we don’t have the resources to help every single one.”

5. Make them understand why you need what you are asking for.  This is the background for your specific ask.  Why are you asking them to come to an event? (“We’re trying to raise our public profile…”) Why are you asking them to give $500? (“We want to serve more hungry families” or “We want to provide more scholarships to needy children”).

6. Make the ask.  Remember to make it a question, and to ask for something concrete and specific.

That may seem like a complicated formula, but once you practice it a few times, you’ll see that is actually quite natural, and makes for a pleasant experience.   Using this formula, your ask may sound like this:

Hi Ruth, how are you?  How are the kids?  (Pleasantries)

Listen, I’ve got something important to ask you.  (Make the Transition)

As you know, I’ve been on the board of the free clinic for almost a year now, and it’s something that is very near and dear to my heart.  (Make the Connection)

Every time I visit the clinic, I see meet the nicest families, who seem just like mine, only they can’t afford even basic medical care for their children.  I see kids who have to be admitted because their families couldn’t afford antibiotics for a simple infection.  It’s very sad! (Make Them Cry)

Ruth, right now, we can only serve about 50% of the families who need our help.  Our goal is to be able to serve every single family and child that needs medical care at the clinic.  We need to raise another $100,000 to make that dream a reality. (Tell Them Why)

Would you be willing to contribute $250 to help us reach that goal? (Make the Ask)

Don’t be afraid, as part of your planning process, to write out a script for yourself so that you’ll feel more comfortable once you’re on the phone with your contact.  And remember, always profusely thank everyone who responds to your ask, and be sure to thank those who say no for their time and consideration.

For more information on how to make fantastic fundraising asks, check out Ask Without Fear!

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon August 11, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Joe;

I work for the local YMCA and have been tasked with the chore of raising all funds and door prizes for our yearly New Years’ Day “Resolution Run 5K.” While I love this event and know lots of people in our community, I want to make sure I time the “ask” properly. How far in advance of the race should I start mailing donation letters and talking to business owners face to face? I fear that too early = they lose it on the back burner. And too late = not enough time for them to make a decision to donate or not?

Joe Garecht August 14, 2014 at 1:56 am

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your question. My general rule of thumb is that it is very hard to ask too early, unless you are asking more than a year out. I would rather see your organization ask TOO EARLY than TOO LATE. My suggestion is to get the letters out at least 6-8 months before the race, (or, if the race is in 4 months, as yours is… right now!) then get out there and meet with people in person, make calls, etc. — Those personal contacts and asks make all the difference!

Let me know if you have any other questions-

Joe

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