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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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Johann Vanderbijl June 13, 2013 at 9:10 am

I have been told that it is better to ask for the single amount of $100 per month rather than list a series of possible gifts starting at $10 and going on up to $500. Do you agree with this? If not, what would you recommend. My wife and I are preparing to be career missionaries in the remote people’s region of Gambela in Ethiopia. There are many critical needs, but we will be focusing on theological, medical, and agricultural education and training.

Joe Garecht June 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

Johann,

Thanks for your question. In general, when fundraising face to face or on the phone, it is best to ask for one set amount (e.g. “Would you be willing to make a gift of $1,000 to help our ministry succeed?”) On the other hand, when fundraising by direct mail, it is generally best to ask for a range of specific amounts (e.g. “Will you donate $50, $100, or more to help our ministry succeed?”)

Best of luck with your overseas endeavors.

Joe

Jessica July 21, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Great article! I am planning a beef and beer benefit for a young girl that was recently put on hospice after battling brain cancer her whole life. Thanks to the government, she was never accepted for life insurance, due to the previous health condition. Anyway I have been turned down left and right because we are not a non-profit.. Any tips on how to get around the so called “red tape”. Its a one time event and its in 2 weeks so I was looking for raffle donations.
Thanks so much!

Joe Garecht July 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Jessica,

Your best bet would probably be to team up with a local church or community organization who would be willing to let you run the beef and beer under their auspices. They would want to make sure the cause is legitimate and the money is being used correctly. You may be able to find such a sponsor organization on short notice, particularly if there are local organizations who are already involved with the cause or family.

Best of luck with your fundraiser!

Joe

Brizaida Ribalta July 22, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Hi,
Thank you for the great ideas! I’m facing some of the same experiences as Jessica. I’ve started a fundraiser for abused children living at a center in Nigeria. Since I’m not a non profit organization businesses will not even hear my requests. I don’t have any physical events. The fundraiser is completely online. I’m not sure which direction to take in order to raise funds. I would like to hear any ideas you may have?
Thank you

Joe Garecht July 23, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for your questions, Brizaida. Your best bet is to partner up with a non-profit in your area, or one elsewhere that serves children in Nigeria. I say this because, depending on where you live, the donations people make to you, as an individual, are likely not tax deductible for them and may even be considered taxable income for you. (Consult your tax professional for advice). So, partnering with a local church or non-profit to hold fundraisers like this (even ones online) may be a smart bet.

Joe

Alexandra August 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Hello! Thank you for the great insight. I supervise an after-school program (operated by a non-profit) and my goals are more focused toward product donations (e.g. food donated for events to improve parent involvement, and so on). Would you recommend the same guidelines or are there alternatives when it comes to that?

Joe Garecht August 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Alexandra,

Thanks for your question. The important thing to remember for “in-kind” donations (meaning donations of goods or services, instead of money) is that they still require an ask. The best way to raise in-kind donations is to go out and have a meeting and make an ask. Next best is to do it on the phone, third best is to do it by mail. Don’t think that you can simply blast out an e-mail to every business in town and have the donations come rolling in. Asks are asks, and they require cultivation and relationship building, even if the donation is in-kind.

Joe

Darcy August 28, 2013 at 3:37 pm

How do you go about donating money to someone directly…ie: a friend who needs help with medical bills due to cancer treatments, etc. Does it have to be done through a non-profit or can people write checks directly to the person in need…will there be any tax issues for the person you are trying to help financially?

Joe Garecht August 29, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Darcy,

Consider working with a local bank foundation (where the bank accounts are set up), church or community organization to offer non-profit status. Depending on where you are located, the donations are likely not tax-deductible and could be considered taxable income for the recipient if you are not working with a non-profit organization. My advice would be to check with a non-profit attorney in your area before launching this type of fundraiser.

Joe

Michelle October 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Hi! I am about to launch a fundraising page to raise money to help my father who is sick and (almost) homeless. How can I get donations easily and make this campaign a huge success?

Joe Garecht October 9, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Michelle,

Have you considered running a crowdfunding campaign and inviting friends and family to help seed it? More details here: http://www.thefundraisingauthority.com/internet-fundraising/crowd-funding-your-non-profit/

Joe

kim October 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Hi, I have a question I would like to have my children do service projects for our community and near by communities like cleaning parks, raising funds for toy donations, food, clothing etc. Our we allowed to ask people for donations or sell like candy bars to help raise money even though we are not a non profit or organization.

Joe Garecht October 23, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Kim,

Thanks for your e-mail, and kudos on getting your kids involved! When fundraising or selling items for charity, it is best to partner with a local church or charity BEFORE you raise the money, to make sure that the proceeds aren’t taxable income for YOU and that they are deductible for your donors.

Joe

Spurthi.K November 5, 2013 at 4:28 am

Hi Joe,

Thank you for the great insight.
I volunteer as a fund-raiser for an NGO in India on my weekends. We are planning to do community fundraising as a team for our coming up events.

And in spite of all these processes, structures etc, there are plenty of volunteers who feel shy to make an ask. Is there a way to overcome that?

Joe Garecht November 5, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Thanks for your question – the best way to overcome shyness is to practice. My suggestion is that your team outlines the importance of fundraising to your volunteers, and shows them the outcomes that will be achieved if your organization reaches its fundraising goal. Then, teach them how to make an ask, and let them get LOTS of practice before sending them out!

Thanks again,
Joe

Jack November 12, 2013 at 1:14 am

Whats the best way to ask someone for a large donation?

Joe Garecht November 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Jack,

Thanks for your question. The best way is to build a relationship with them, communicate with them, and when the time is right, sit down with them face to face and use the 6 steps in this article. They really do work!

Joe

Natasha November 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Hello Joe,

If a non profit organization receives donated items to use for their raffle fundraiser, do the donated items count towards the fundraising goal? Or does only the money raised from the raffles count towards the organization’s fundraising goal?

Thank you,

Natasha

Joe Garecht November 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Natasha,

That’s up to you and your team. That being said, if an organization I work for needs to raise $50,000 to keep the doors open, I only count the money we raise towards that goal. If raffle or auction items don’t sell at the event, we sell them elsewhere (with the donor’s permission) and count the money we get in return towards our fundraising goal. It’s nice to get a car donated for a raffle, but you can’t use that car to pay the electricity bill at your office… at least not until you sell it!

Thanks for your question!

Joe

Alex November 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Hello Joe,

I am an Elementary school nurse and we are trying to get donated uniforms from parents because we don’t have any clothes for kids who at times have bathroom accidents or their clothes rip or any small emergency like that. Sometimes parents cant make it to the school to drop off an extra set of clothing since they do work as well, so we want to send out a letter to all parents to see if they could possibly donate any old uniforms and new underwear and socks for our kids to use. I am struggling on how to even start the letter though, I have never asked anyone for anything especially to 650 parents! I am a little embarrassed to ask coworkers, I am the “new nurse” and they might judge me for not being able to write this and maybe say I don’t have people skills or something! could you please help me figure a way to ask parents for this, we don’t want money just any left over uniforms basically.

Thanks
Alex

Joe Garecht November 26, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Sure Alex – I just sent you an e-mail with some thoughts.

Joe

Johnanna December 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

Hi Joe,
Thank you for this great information. Do you have any tips on getting past the FEAR of asking? I have a small dinner party to follow up on and of course I will be thanking them for attending but I also need to invite them to make a gift. Thoughts? Thank you.

Julie Dietz December 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

Hi Joe,
I have recently acepted a new job as outreach manager for a community supported argiculture that donates 20% of what we harvest to homeless shelter, food banks and church pantries. I started in the year when calling and asking the “big wigs” for donation were already done. Now this year it is all up to me. All of the sponsores I will be calling have already donated in the past 3 years. However, I am a nervous wreak to call them. Some of them have donated over 10,000. and I sure dont want to mess it up and lose that for our farm. How in the world do I get over it. I am soo afraid of failure

Joe Garecht December 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

Julie,

Thanks for your questions. Think of it this way: the people you are talking with this year are strong supporters of your organization. They have relationships with your organization. They have given in the past, and will likely want to give again. They LIKE your organization, and they want to LIKE you!

Now, set up some time to do cultivation meetings – no asks. Go out and introduce yourself to your donors. Meet with them. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. Cultivate them.

Then… after that is done… go back out to see them, or call them on the phone, to make your asks.

Joe

Joe Garecht December 6, 2013 at 9:51 am

Johnanna,

Practice! The best way to get over ask anxiety is to practice making asks. First in front of the mirror, then with your friends, spouse or co-workers. Use the 6 step system in this article, and practice, practice, practice.

When you are doing the asks for real, remember that you aren’t asking for YOU, you are asking for your ORGANIZATION. Your organization does great work, but it can’t do it without money. You are inviting your prospects to INVEST in your work and do real good in the world!

Joe

Tamra December 7, 2013 at 9:28 am

Joe,
Thanks for such an informative site. Love your response time and wonderful answers to incoming questions. I am planning an email campaign to the members of our nonprofit and wonder if there is a general template that works in this situation.

Joe Garecht December 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Tamra,

Thanks – glad you like the site. Good question. There really isn’t a “perfect” template for e-mail fundraising. If you are using AWeber, Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or another list management program that offers templates, my suggestion would be to use a simple template, without lots of graphics. Many (most?) people have e-mail graphics turned off, so while your font, text size and the color blocks, etc. will come through, the pictures will just have a notice to “turn on graphics” if people want to see them.

So keep the template simple, write great copy, and communicate with your e-mail list at least once every other month… and make sure you send at least 3 non-ask e-mails (newsletters, etc.) for every solicitation e-mail you send.

Joe

Angella December 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

Hi,
I volunteer within the community and there is a school that is a very needy school. Last year the school became a JK to Grade 8 and all the parents are so excited about the changes to the school. Next year we will be having our second sets of Grade 8′s be graduated and we the parents on the Parent School Council would like to purchase 38 lap top for these children giving them a head start for high school. We will having some fundraising for next year but I am afraid we may not have enough by then.
What should I do?

Angella

Joe Garecht December 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Angella,

Thanks for your question – who is your target donor? The parents? Local businesses? Donors to the school? First, define who your donors are. Then, create a plan for asking them for donations. One question they will likely have is will this be something you do every year? If so, how will you be able to raise this amount every year, for every student graduating from 8th grade? You’ll need to have an answer for that question as you go out to make your asks.

Joe

Chris December 12, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hi Joe,
I work with Relay for Life and my committee and I are trying to organize a happy hour at a lounge or bar in the area of our relay in hopes to get more businesses invested in our event. My question today is more on how to go about asking the bar/restaurant to host this for us and provide say the first drink free and other incentives…….I guess I am looking more for verbage to put in a “proposal” to take with me when I ask. Any ideas?

Joe Garecht December 12, 2013 at 11:08 am

Chris,

Your best bet is to approach a bar or restaurant that you, or someone on your committee, already has a relationship with. If no such relationship already exists, you can create a sponsorship package that notes that, in return for allowing you to hold the event there and providing some appetizers or the first drink free, the restaurant will be considered a sponsor of the event and will receive a link on your website, a mention in your newsletter, or whatever else you can think of. Plus, note that you expect that many people will spend money on additional drinks, food, etc.

Then, approach the restaurant or pub manager and have an honest conversation – tell them about your mission and what you are hoping to accomplish, and then ask them if they would be willing to partner with you to help sponsor the event and at the same time get more exposure in the community.

Joe

Tina December 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Joe,

I am a cheer mom and, like Johnanna, I need to get over this fear hump and find some courage to ask others to donate money to help cover competition fees for my two daughters. The cheer organization has their own fundraisers but because of the accumulated costs including insurance, registration, costumes, shoes, gymnastic and dance fees, cheer attire, travel, hotel, cheer accessories, competition venue, and monthly enrollment, their fundraisers are often times asking too much of a donation. While I understand the reason for asking I am afraid to dare ask someone to donate so much at once. What should I present to prospect donors to earn their donation without feeling shameful for asking in the first place. And if someone declines to donate is is necessary that I suggest a smaller donation instead?

~Tina

Joe Garecht December 16, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Tina,

Thanks for your question. First and foremost, there should be no shame in fundraising. Remember, you are not asking to enrich yourself, but instead are fundraising to support your daughter and a cause that you believe in (the team). You’ll need to start with the people you know. Consider creating some sort of fun way to approach them, such as asking people to become part of Team Danni (or whatever your daughter’s name is) or selling honorary “shares” in her success. Either way, you’ll still need to make direct asks. If someone says no, you can ask one follow up question: “would you be interested in supporting the team at a lower level?”

The best way to get over the fear is to practice, practice, practice – in front of the mirror, your spouse, your friends…

Joe

Bree December 30, 2013 at 12:56 am

Joe,

I’ve read this article and I think its wonderful but I’m still a bit nervous about asking see I work for a company that helps empower young children e.g. Fostered children, Abused Children, absenteeism from school, Family Troubles & much more by giving the child a safe haven, all confidential and usually we try and get a mentor for the child they can relate to for example we have a mentor who works at a vet and also grew up on a farm the child she is mentoring loves animals so the child feels like they can relate to this person and feel comfortable. Were only a small business as of yet and we have a growing team of over 60 volunteers, but only minimum funding, we need donations so if anything does happen with a child from now on we can afford to pay for certain things like counseling and treatments in the near future. How could I approach this ‘ask’ I’ve been asked to think big think about people who will donate a decent sum for a great cause.

Warm Regards
Bree

Marie December 31, 2013 at 8:43 am

Dear Joe
I ran a fundraiser in memory of my husband who passed from esophageal cancer.
Never had any experience doing this and raised close to 100,000 dollars. There were a handful of people , some close friends and family
Who said they donated but never did. And because the money went directly to the charity they probably think I was not aware that they did not donate . But the charity sends me an updated list every so often. My question is : do I confront them and tell them I know that they never made a donation or not. I am very offended that a person would do such a thing . After all this is for cancer. I find this behavior repulsive. These are not poor people! –Marie

Joe Garecht December 31, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Marie,

While it is unfortunate that some people chose to say that they donated when they did not, my advice would be to simply let it go. Those folks know they didn’t donate. Perhaps some of them wanted to, thought they could, then didn’t have the money and were embarrassed to tell you. Others may have forgotten to do so. Others may just be financially unable, but wanted to show their support.

My advice is to forgive and move on, without mentioning it to them, even though that is hard to do.

Joe

Joe Garecht December 31, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Bree,

Thanks for your question and for the great work you are doing. The best place to start is with the folks who are already interested and involved with your work – your board, their friends and co-workers, your donors and THEIR friends, your volunteers, their friends and co-workers, your staff’s contacts, etc. Start with the people who know about your organization. Build a relationship with them. Talk to them. Cultivate them. Then ask them to upgrade, to refer, to give. “Cold” asks are the hardest asks to make, and the least successful.

Joe

Shannon DiMichele January 29, 2014 at 9:15 am

Last year my nephew was passed away of heterotaxy and congenital heart defects. As his aunt I found the need to find a way to honor and remember him and to raise funds for research. I am in the process of putting together a golf outing/tournament. I have never done anything like this before and I don’t know how to go about getting donations from businesses. Do you have sample letters or ideas of how to approach a business for a monetary donation or gift?

Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

Joe Garecht February 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Shannon,

The best way to start is to meet with / visit / call those businesses that you, your family and friends already have a connection with. Ask everyone you know to put you in touch with the places where they work, shop, play, eat… their clients, vendors, accountants, lawyers… everyone that you and they already have a connection with. These will be the best places for you to start with finding sponsors for the event.

Joe

aw February 13, 2014 at 2:43 am

Hello Joe,

I am considering attempting to raise some funds to cover personal expenses relating to health issues, a BIG move and a criminal act that robbed our family of all its’ household posessions. I do not want to ask friends and family. Is there a way to ask all those unknown people out there online? And, if so how would I do it, how would I contact them?

Joe Garecht February 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Thanks for your question. I am sorry to hear about the issues you are dealing with.

Unfortunately, the answer is no – you can’t effectively raise money by starting with strangers. Almost every non-profit that has ever been started began by raising money from the founders’ personal networks of friends, family, business partners and other contacts. In order to raise money, you’ll have to go to those who already know you, trust you, and believe in your mission. After they give, you can go to THEIR friends and contacts, and build out bigger and larger circles.

Best of luck with your fundraising efforts.

Joe

Sydney February 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Hey Joe,

Awesome tips that I’ll definitely be using in regards to asking face-to-face or by phone. However, do you have any tips for email “asks?”
I am apart of a startup non-profit. Part of this non-profit is speaking to youth groups or college groups to gain relationships and help financially. Many “asks” are needed to be done out of state and to people we have never met before. I struggle with writing an email that 1. Will not be forgotten (churches are busy places it’s easy to have a non-profit or outside ministry fall through the cracks) and 2. Somehow establish a trust and a “yes” through an email.
Do you have any tips for this? Hope all that made sense. As a follow up to my question,

I need more advice on how to just simply ask if we can come, rather than financially. Since we are a startup, all we’re asking is that gas is paid for. Other than that, we just want to hang out and share.

Joe Garecht February 25, 2014 at 1:22 am

Sydney,

Thanks for your question. Cold asks for donations through e-mail rarely work. However, I think what you are saying is that you are asking if you can come visit and speak there, not for money, or that you ask that they pay for your travel expenses.

My suggestion would be first to do some fundraising from your own circles so that you don’t have to ask for travel expenses. It will be far easier to get a yes if you are asking for time only, rather than time and money, since they have never met you. My second suggestion is that you send an e-mail explaining your organization and telling the recipient that you will be following up with a call the next day. Then call, and have a phone conversation. It’s much easier to get a yes with an e-mail and phone combo than with e-mail only.

Joe

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