On Asking

The other night I was the speaker at a Junior League general membership meeting.  My topic was about the fundraising ask.  But even before I got up to talk, one of the members gave the best workshop on why asking is such a good thing to do.

She was talking about why she has been a member, and stay active, for over 30 years.  “I joined,” she said, “because somebody asked me to join.”  It was as simple—and as transformative—as that.

Somebody asked.

Of course, not everyone you ask will say yes—unless you’ve taken the time to learn about them.  About their values, their dreams, what they hope to get out it all.

Once you know that, you can connect those dots and make a yes all but inevitable.

Asking really isn’t hard.  Asking the right person for the right gift and getting the timing right is a little more difficult.  As is knowing how much to ask for.

Yes, you must ask for a specific gift.  Stress levels rise when you ask for an open-ended gift.  No one wants to give too little, or too much.  You owe your donor the peace of mind of knowing where the negotiations need to start.

For that reason, you must always, from the very beginning, talk about money.

“It feels weird,” people tell me.  “Not natural.”

But let’s get real here:  There is nothing natural about fundraising.  Mainly it fills a need.  The need of the organization and the need of your donor.

Just as we buy things and stuff because we need the item, or we simply need to shop, we give generously because it fills a need—the need to do good, make a difference, impact something.  Or just to be thought well of as a philanthropic person.

Our job as fundraisers is find out what that need is, and to help our donors fill it joyously.  And in a way that meets the needs of the organization.

To do this, you must focus your cultivation on your donor.  Throw away that carefully crafted pitch; leave your laptop with that adorable video in your car.  Instead, learn about your donor.  Ask them about their philanthropy—what matters to them, what they hope to accomplish.  Find out about the best charitable gift they ever made.  And the worst. Ask them how they like to be recognized—and what was a great example of that.

Make sure you understand how their giving decisions are made, and who needs to be at the table.

And don’t spring a number on them months after you started talking.  Begin with clarity.  Tell them upfront why you want to meet with them. “I want to meet with you to talk about a very special gift we hope you will consider.”  And then at the meeting, mention things like cost, the part (financially) you hope they will play.  Remind them that you are not asking them now—you know they have to have a lot more information—but you do want to make sure that you are on the right page.

Above all, while fundraising is a lot about relationships, it is not exactly about friendship.  There are similarities, and it’s so much better when donor and fundraiser actually like each other, what really matters is the passion both have for your organization.  While I picture friendship as two people hugging each other, I see the fundraising relationship as those same people reaching out to a cause, an organization, a value.  The relationship is not really with you but with what you represent.

This doesn’t mean that you are unimportant.  After all, someone has to ask in order for that other person to join.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to build fundraising capacity and to build stronger, more committed boards.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.   While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact us to see how we can help you be more successful.



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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