We all know the number one reason people don’t give money is that they’re not asked. So the simple act of asking, no matter how badly, will significantly increase your odds of getting a gift. Having said that, it sure helps to ask in language the donor can understand.

Last month, I received a fundraising letter from a group I’ll call “Sywash.” The top of the letter said, “Help Meet Sywash’s Challenge!” Four paragraphs down, they finally got to the challenge:

“Sywash has been given an incredible opportunity by an anonymous donor to strengthen our financial base with a challenge to our annual fund supporters. As part of this challenge grant, we must secure $50,000 in new and increased funding from our under $1,000 givers during the coming months. Once we reach this goal, the donor will award an additional $100,000 to Sywash.”

I had to read that paragraph twice. The paragraph is all about “us” and “our goals”—even in the title of the challenge—a pitfall I talk about in my “Asking for Money” seminar. Moreover, there isn’t any end date given for the challenge! It’s left in a vague “during the coming months.”

Why not make a much more compelling challenge by issuing it in the voice of the anonymous donor?

“Sywash changed my life. I’m so convinced of the importance Sywash’s mission, I’m issuing a challenge to help them strengthen their financial base. Here’s the challenge: if all of you give $50,000 more than last year, I’ll give $100,000. Here’s the catch: I’ll only count gifts from new donors and increased gifts from donors who normally give less than $1,000. Are you in? Think about it, for every additional $1 you give, I’ll give $2. But hurry, you have to give before June 30th!”

I love this because donors can speak to each other in a much more direct style. If you do this, you’ll obviously need to run it past the donor first but chances are, it is closer to what they want to say. After all, shouldn’t a “challenge” be challenging?

The moral of the story: when you’re asking for money, be as politely direct as possible. Donors are busy and don’t have time to read-between-the-lines to figure out what you’re trying to say!

We often we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. You can email me your funniest mistakes at: marc@fundraisingcoach.com.

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