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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{ 66 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

Dee October 1, 2014 at 9:48 am

Hi Joe,

I would like to ask my employer to sponsor a table of 10 for the annual Arthritis Foundation Silver Ball Gala in December. How would I go about to ask them? We are a small company of 40 people. I want them to purchase a table of 10 for $2500.

Dee

Joe Garecht October 2, 2014 at 12:13 am

Dee,

Your best bet is to schedule a meeting with the boss and follow the steps laid out in this post. Tell them why you care, how you got involved, stress the MARKETING BENEFITS of the sponsorship, and then make the ask.

Good luck!

Joe

Kari December 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Hi Joe,

Recently my son was invited to go on a People to People trip. We have to raise a significant amount of money for him to be able to go. With that said we are doing multiple fundraisers but I am at the point where I feel like I need to ask for possible donations from local businesses. So my question is would it be better for me to mail the letters or take them in person? My son could possibly go with for some but not all if I went in person…what do you think?

Thanks Kari

Joe Garecht December 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Kari,

Thanks for your questions. Your best bet for a fundraising endeavor like this is to start with personal connections, friends, family and colleagues to ask for sponsorships and donations, then follow up with events. If you plan to reach out to local businesses, the rule of thumb for fundraising is always In Person > Phone > Snail Mail > E-Mail > Social Media. Meaning that in person asks are always the most effective, followed by (in order of decreasing effectiveness) phone asks, then snail mail asks, then e-mail asks, then social media asks.

Hope this helps –

Joe

Tyson James January 4, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Joe,

I am an Intake Coordinator for a long term residential faith based recovery program. We do not receive insurance or state funding because we are faith based. It is my job to work with addicts and their families and to walk them through the major step of obtaining help. Our policy is that we do not turn away anybody for lack of funds but we do ask families to help us offset the $2,500 a month it costs for their family member by contributing $1,250. By the time they come to us, many families have already spent crazy amounts of money on their addicted family member, whether paying for other secular treatment centers or from bailing them out of costly court matters. What I hear often is, “We have nothing to give!” Do you have any pointers to get past this road block?

Thank you!

Joe Garecht January 8, 2015 at 12:18 am

Tyson,

Thanks for your questions. You might want to start by looking OUTSIDE of your current client base for funding – put together a board that will help you raise money, reach out to community members, put together a fundraising network, etc. Then, go to alumni of your program to ask for donations. Then, go to the parents, grandparents and friends of alumni and current participants.

In terms of going to families of current participants, it might be intimidating to ask for $1,250 up front. Why not ask if the family could give $100 per month for a year (12 months) to help subsidize the cost of treatment?

Joe

Maria March 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Hey Joe,

I’m raising money for a band trip by selling popcorn. Would it be wise of me to mention my trip to the prospect or should I just say that the money goes towards the band fundraising?

Thanks!

Joe Garecht March 7, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Maria,

For this type of fundraiser, you should primarily be approaching people you know (or who know people you know) to ask them to buy popcorn. Because they already know you, your parents, friends, etc., you should definitely tell them about the trip and why it is important to you, and then ask them to give. The best way to ask is person to person… I saw your second question about flyers, that’s fine, and they can be relaxed in tone, but remember that you won’t sell many through flyers. You will sell most by actually asking someone to purchase the popcorn and telling them your story face to face.

Good luck.

Joe

Cammie March 29, 2015 at 11:54 am

Hi Joe,

My friends and I are putting together a charity fashion show in September to help support a local nonprofit organization and we are still in the planning phase. However we’ve run into a little issue with collecting donations from individuals or businesses. We know they will want to write off the donation on their taxes. If they want to donate money and be able to write it off, by law, they must make their payment out to a nonprofit, but we do not have such status. Another concern is some businesses may not feel comfortable writing checks to us as individuals, but they’d rather write it to an organization because it looks more legit.

We thought maybe a good solution would be having the sponsors write the donation check to the actual organization, who would cash it and give it back to us so we can use it to put the event together. We brought this matter to the attention of the nonprofit organization we are trying to raise funds for and they told us they can’t do that; it would basically mess up their books.

We checked into getting a 501c3 status, but that would be too complicated, too involved, not to mention we don’t have $400 for the filing fee. So what would you say is the best approach to this? Turning away potential sponsors could potentially “hurt” our budget and jeopardize the charity event, as all the funds we need to make this event happen has to come from sponsors. Do you think there is an alternative route? Thanks for reading this and for your time.

Cammie

Joe Garecht April 1, 2015 at 11:24 am

Cammie,

It generally doesn’t make sense to seek 501c3 status just to run one event. Your best bet is to go back to the non-profit you are raising funds for and present them with a list of sponsors who have said “yes” to sponsoring the event. Ideally, this list will include enough sponsors to cover the cost of the event. This shows the organization that you are serious. Then ask the non-profit to help you run this event – they won’t want to “pass through” the donations to you – instead, suggest that donors and attendees write checks directly to the organization, and that the organization pay the expenses directly. They will be much more likely to agree to this if they see you have enough sponsors on hand already to cover the costs.

Let me know how it goes!

Joe

Andrea June 7, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Hi Joe,
Im trying to get a small time fundraiser started as i work with two amazing 501c3 rescues in my area. (were in SC) They happen to be extremely tight on fund from the dozens of medically urgent animals they take on ( they do not have facilities like most rescues) but im trying to find out the best way to go about it. Was thinking of Setting up a table with some poster boards made up of some pg13 graphics showing the cause and simply asking for any $ or other dontaions or should i go about it diferently?

Joe Garecht June 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

Andrea,

Thanks for your question. As always, it’s best to start with those you know… why not talk to the organizations to let them know what you are planning to do, then approach your family, friends, colleagues, etc. to ask them for donations to the shelters? You could even consider holding a small event at your home and inviting everyone you know… I have found that getting people you know involved as donors is always better and more efficient than trying to raise money from strangers…

Joe

Shana August 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

I work as a manager at a school that is not for profit. We have a development team that does facility wide fundraising events, they are good at it. I have the authority to solicit school supply donations and teacher appreciation type gifts that are specifically for the school. I am a former teacher and enjoyed getting: scented lotions, candles, cosmetic gift bags, gift cards, etc. School supplies I am really comfortable with asking supplies, but how do I ask for teacher gifts? Do these types of donations go over better face-to-face, on the phone, internet correspondence with home office?

Joe Garecht August 30, 2015 at 9:03 pm

Shana,

Thanks for your question. In general, the hierarchy of asks goes like this: in person > on the phone > snail mail > e-mail — meaning that in person is more effective than on the phone, which is more effective than snail mail, which is more effective than e-mail.

That being said, for these types of gifts, I think you will probably have lots of success with a snail mail letter and an easy way for people to drop off the gifts — these types of in kind contributions are very similar to asking for silent auctions items.

Good luck with your fundraising efforts!

Joe

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