Advice booth picture used for major gift fundraising blog, taken by laughlin on Flicker week, I was at a meeting and heard a board member say:

“Ask a man for advice, and he’ll give you money. Ask a man for money, and he’ll give you advice.

Isn’t that the truth? Think about the times you as a board member or nonprofit employee told someone you were asking for money. How often does that person think they’re helping by giving you ideas for raising money instead of making a donation? “Oh, you should try a bottle drive.” or “You know, what if you opened juice stores?” or “I bet if you sold these [fill in the blank of their product] we could raise some money for you.”

Asking for advice forces you to be interested

The great thing about asking someone for advice is that you’re forced to focus on the prospect. You must figure out something legitimate that he or she could actually give you advice about.

It forces you to see beyond the prospect’s wallet.

I know we’ve talked alot about effective fundraising letters and successful year-end appeals. These are extremely important components of your fundraising program. These should be well in hand. This week, ask advice of some of your best donor prospects.

Some tips on effectively asking for advice

  • No hook

    You are really there to just ask advice. Nothing else. If they ask you how much you’re looking to get from them, you can say, “Oh. I wasn’t planning on asking you for money this time.” 🙂

  • Ask for meaningful input

    This only works in building relationships when you really are asking for advice. Sincerity is key. There are two ways to go about finding what you should ask for and who to ask it of:

    1. Draw a list of things your nonprofit needs help with.
    2. Then go through your top donors and prospects, matching their expertise with an area on the list.


    1. Draw a list of people you’d wish were donors to your nonprofit. Jot down what areas of expertise they have.
    2. Then circle the areas that would be most helpful for you nonprofit.
  • Not pro bono – not “picking their brain”

    Don’t expect people to work for free. No matter how great your cause is, they have families to feed. Don’t rob the food from their mouths. (For one person’s take on that, read Andrienne Graham’s piece in Forbes magazine called “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much.“)

  • Buy the damn coffee

    A corollary to that is if you’re meeting them at a restaurant or coffee shop, pay for their order! You are asking for their advice. This is social etiquette 101 – if you do the inviting, you foot the bill.

    Sorry. I don’t normally use language like that. But the number of times nonprofit people–not business people, just nonprofit people–have left me holding the bill is astounding. It’s embarrassing for our entire sector. And it leaves a very bad impression both to the “expert” you’re trying to build a relationship with. I once met people who’d asked for my advice. They invited me to meet at a local fast food restaurant. We sat their for an hour an a half and they never ordered anything!! My tension increased every minute. Their assumptive attitude, treating a private business like a public park, spoke volumes for how they were missing other social cues in their nonprofit work!

What to say at the meeting

  • Make your ask specific

    Just like in fundraising, you need to be specific about what you’re asking of them. What exactly do you want advice about? “Marketing” is too broad. So is “online marketing.” A far better approach would be “developing relationship with area news reporters” or “tips on wisely making our ad buy.” Or “We’re going to build this new building. What are the 3 most common construction mistakes that you see people make? How can we avoid them?”

  • Acknowledge that this is their job

    Let them know that you know that they get paid for this. “Joe, I know you get paid for this. I’m not asking you to do anything pro bono. I am calling hoping you could point us in the right direction as we approach [name your initiative or project].”

  • Don’t dominate their time

    This is your full-time job, not theirs. (If you’re a board member you can read that as “This is your volunteer gig, not theirs.”) Respect their time. I like asking for 15-20 minutes. That’s long enough to get pointers, and short enough to fit in their schedule.

    When you get to the promised time, and the person is on a roll sharing her ideas with you, ask “I only asked for 15 minutes of your time. Are you ok that we’re going over?” Then I wouldn’t mention the time again. It’s now their choice to give you more time than you asked for.

Asking for advice is a part of growing a relationship

Asking for advice fits in both the “engage” and “love” steps of the Ask Without Fear! fundraising system. When you’ve taken the time to identify a person’s assets, beyond what you think is in their checkbook, you’re treating them as a human. (Rather than treating them as an ATM.)

Using these tips, will help ensure that you are building the relationship, not damaging it!

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