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No one has ever become poor by giving.” –Anne Frank

“When courage, genius, and generosity hold hands, all things are possible.” –Unknown

“It is more rewarding to watch money change the world than to watch it accumulate.” –Gloria Steinem

“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” –William James

“Much is required from those to whom much is given.” –Luke 12:48

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” –Edith Wharton

To keep a lamp burning we have to keep putting oil in it.  –Mother Theresa

God gives, but man must open his hand. –German Proverb


If you only could do one step of the Get R.E.A.L. process, and raising money is your goal, “ask” is the step you’d want to choose. Do you know the No. 1 reason people give money to nonprofits? They are asked.

Which do you think is easier: Walking up to a stranger and asking her to give money to your cause? Or calling a person you’ve gotten to know and asking them to invest in the part of your mission you know they’re interested in?

Now that you’ve done your research and engaged the donor, asking is a breeze. The first two steps help you weed out the people that won’t be interested so you can limit your asking on the people who will.

Before you start asking anyone for their gift, be sure you’ve made your gift. People can tell if you’re committed to the cause or not. And it’s so much easier to ask people to “join” you in supporting the project than it is to ask them to give money to something you’re not personally investing in.

Setting up an Appointment

Sometimes clients ask me what qualifies as an “ask.” For me, getting together with a donor doesn’t qualify as an ask unless I’ve asked for a gift of a specific dollar amount. A vague, “Would you consider giving to our cause” doesn’t do it. The donor has no idea what you’re asking for. They may end up giving $25 and think they’re doing you a favor when you’d been anticipating a gift of $25,000.

When setting up appointments, I like asking if their “calendar would allow” us to meet at such-and-such a time. “I’ll be traveling in your area next week. Would your calendar allow us to get together Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon?” I find that wording makes the process of setting up an appointment less confrontational. Some would argue against using this phrasing saying it let’s them off the hook because they’re not taking personal responsibility for their time. But I’m not there to be their life coach. I’m there to raise money. Asking if “their calendar” will allow us to get together feels less confrontational to me.

I always let them know the purpose of the visit. I’ve gone into a few solicitations without letting people know I was going to ask them for money and I always felt scummy when I came around to asking. I felt like I pulled a “bait-and-switch.” So when I’m setting up an appointment to ask for money I always make sure the donor prospect knows that I’m expecting to ask them to invest in my cause.

You might say something as simple as, “I’m going to be in the area and I would love to get together with you and talk about a big project we’re working on.” You could even say something as specific as, “While we’re together, I’d really like to talk about your involvement in our annual campaign.” Just do the courtesy of letting them know in advance. It makes your meetings so much easier. If you’ve developed a relationship with them this far, they know your job is to invite people to invest in your cause. They’re waiting for you to make the ask. A solicitation isn’t going to surprise them.

One of the oddest alumni meetings I’ve had was in Boston a few years ago. After tossing back a couple of martinis (him not me), the alumnus said, “Aww [expletive]! I forgot my checkbook. You never see the alumni director without your checkbook!” It was as though he had been given a script before our meeting! He knew what to say. I honestly hadn’t come to ask him for money this time. But he knew that nonprofits need philanthropic support and that relationships with donors are a kind of dance.

Given an invitation like that, and having listened to him talk about his buying three or four $1,500 suits each year, I asked if he’d consider giving up one suit and make a donation to the school. It didn’t work but he was impressed that I was actually listening to him and asked him something related to his life.

Finding an Outlet

As I said in the introduction, I’m a firm believer in keeping things simple. Simplicity has a beauty of its own. I fear we’re running the risk of making things too difficult as we look specifically at the step of asking. When it comes right down to it, asking for money is simply story telling.

  1. You figure out who is most likely to respond well to your story.
  2. You give those people the opportunity to tell you their story.
  3. You show them points of intersection with your story.
  4. You ask if they’d consider investing in one of those points.
  5. Then you go and tell that story to the next person.

Not all prospects give you such an open door as my experience in Boston. But solicitations can be some of the most fun experiences of your life.

Remember my analogy of the fundraiser looking for the connection between the donor’s electrical cord and the nonprofit’s outlet? Asking is inviting them to plug into your cause. That’s where the power is released! Remember the things that get them excited. If they don’t care about “a hand up and not a hand out,” don’t talk about that aspect of your mission, even if it’s normally a big part of your prepared solicitation speech. Focus on what it is that turns them on and ask them to invest in that.

Using Props

One of my major goals is to help you feel comfortable enough to consider asking people to invest in your favorite cause, especially if you’re not a paid professional development officer. (I hope this book is helpful to them, too!) So let’s take a look at some of the different tools that will help you in this process of asking for money.

Even with the best preparation, asking for a gift can sometimes be a bit nerve-wracking. Have you ever set up a solicitation appointment and gone to the meeting only to chicken out of asking? I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. We leave feeling like we’ve really let our organization down. Worse, the donor leaves confused because we’d set up the appointment specifically to ask them for money.

One of the best ways to help keep you from doing that is by using props. There’s a wonderful power in putting a piece of paper on the desk or propping a picture on a bookcase. All of a sudden, the solicitation is no longer you against them. Instead, you’re both focusing on the same thing. It’s as though you’ve moved over to their side of the table and formed a brief partnership.

One of the easiest props to use is the gift grid you created during the research stage. (If you didn’t do it then, try it now. You can create one for free by going to http://blackbaud.com/resources/giftrange/giftcalc.aspx.) This is one of my favorite props. I find many people have a real problem asking for a specific dollar amount, say $25,000. With a gift grid, you can simply point to a section of the grid and ask, “Would you consider giving at this level?” The prospect still has a very specific idea of what you’re asking for. There’s no ambiguity. Even better, they can see the entire range of gifts. He just may say, “No, not at that level. I’d like to give at this level.” It may even be higher. That has happened!

This grid can also become a great prospecting tool. Whether the person says “yes” or “no” to your solicitation, you can ask them if there is anyone they would recommend you talk to about giving at that level. They may not be able to think of anyone, but at least you’ve asked. If they do think of someone, you’ve significantly decreased your research time on that new person. With permission, you can even call the new prospect and say, “I was just talking about this campaign with Joe and he suggested I show it to you, too. I’ll be in your area this week. Would your calendar allow us to meet this Thursday or next Tuesday?”

Another prop that I believe just might be the most effective is a picture of the completed project. These are often called renderings or perspectives. Get an artist to paint a picture of what the room will look like when it’s finished. If this sort of project has been completed somewhere else, get the picture of what it looks like.

Not only will the picture communicate what you’re intending to do, it also shows the prospect that such a project can be completed successfully. This is significant. All of us want to know we’re investing a winning cause, to a project that actually will be accomplished. A picture like this can assure donors that you’ll see this project through to completion.

Here’s a lesson from experience: Try to tell as much of the story as possible in your images. Recently, we used floor plans to help us tell the story of our current expansion. We told donors that the expansion almost doubled our floor space. But we only had floor plans that showed what the facility would look like in the future.

These floor plans would’ve been far more impressive if the original footprint were somehow marked on them. Then they could see what the old space was and how this new space would be so much better. And they wouldn’t have to take your word about the doubling of floor space; the evidence would be directly in front of them. People knew the building as it has been for the last 30 years. Having the original footprint would’ve made it easier for them to orient themselves.

One important note: don’t use the prop as a substitute for asking. A danger with great props is you’ll succumb to the temptation of just popping them in the mail with a personal note. I call this the Field of Dreams Fallacy and discuss it in the chapter “7 Fundraising Faux Pas” as Fundraising Faux Pas #1. Don’t give in to the temptation! Make sure to P.Y.I.T.S.—put yourself in their shoes. Would you make a significant gift if you received a gift grid in the mail? Probably not. So don’t risk it with your prospect. Your cause is too important. Get on the phone, set up the solicitation appointment and bring the prop with you. You’ll be glad you did!

Tangibilitize Your Ask

Props can be a big help in asking for money. Another help is tangibilitizing your ask. You won’t find “tangibilitize” in the dictionary, but you will find it in practice all around you. Look at any piece of direct mail you receive that’s trying to get you to spend money. The good ones will break down “what you’ll get” for the cost of the investment. These concrete examples help make the offer tangible. In a way, tangibilitizing is all about taking someone’s abstract gift of money and making it real.

Once again, put yourself in the shoes of the donor. Someone’s just asked you to give $1,000 to her project. They’ve done a wonderful job presenting their case and you’re convinced they’re doing incredible work. But give $1,000 from your personal account? Where will that come from?! And how would your $1,000 really help them?

A great example of this was on the leadership giving page of the Alfond Youth Center www.aplaceforkidstogo.org/leadership.html. There was a section starting with this phrase: “Your membership will enable a disadvantaged child to receive…” I love it! According to this page, my $1,000 would provide:

  • A full year of After School programming.
  • Hot meals daily.
  • Camp scholarships.
  • The child’s choice of a variety of enrichment programs.

That makes my $1,000 tangible. I could supply a kid with hot meals every day! Looks like my $1,000 will do lots of great things. I can get my heart behind that.

The Heifer Project tangibilitizes extraordinarily well, too. Go to www.heifer.org and look at their gift catalog.
Heifer International Tangiblitizing

All sorts of gift ranges represented by different animals:

  • a $500 gift is symbolized as a gift of a heifer,
  • $120 a gift of a pig,
  • $60 a trio of rabbits,
  • $20 a gift of chickens.

A $5000 gift is “a gift of an ark”!

Every gift in the catalog describes the many ways people will be benefited. For example, chickens help Mrs. Ndagurwa scratch up and fertilize her vegetable garden and their 200+ eggs per year add protein to her family’s diet and cash to help her market her vegetables. Can you see how much more compelling a “gift of chickens” can be than simply asking for $20?

What I love about Heifer.org is the clear statement right under the image of the animals:

The prices in this catalog represent the complete livestock gift of a quality animal, technical assistance and training. Each purchase is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. Donations will be used where needed most to help struggling people.

With a statement like that, you know exactly what you’re giving to and how the gift will be used.

How can you tangibilitize your favorite cause? Why not stop right now and find the answers to these questions:

  • How many people will be served by a gift of $1,000?
  • How many days (or hours) of programming will a gift of $5,000 fund?
  • How many meals will be served? Jobs created? Students assisted?

As you make your solicitation tangible, remember to not overwhelm the other person with too many options. (Refer to Fundraising Faux Pas #3 the “Cheez-It Treatment.”) It’s important to have lots of ways to tangibilitize your ask, but use only the one or two that will best fit with the other person’s interests.

Watch Your Phrasing

Finally, when we’re asking for money, we’d do well to take the advice of Mayor Shin in the musical “The Music Man.” Mayor Shin always seems to be warning people, “Watch your phraseology!” Any of us could choose the wrong words for the wrong donor and turn ourselves red with embarrassment. (Refer to Fundraising Faux Pas #4 “Mrs. McTat’s House of Cat’s.”

It’s important to practice phrases we should use. I think one of the best phrases to practice is:

“I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $25,000 to the campaign.”

Stop for a minute and say it out loud. Now keep practicing until it rolls off your tongue. This phrase will be one of the most valuable tools in your fundraising tool belt. Since you’ve already made your own gift, you could easily change that phrase to be:

“Would you consider joining me in making a gift of $25,000 to the campaign?”


“Would you consider joining me in supporting the campaign with a gift of $25,000?”

Whenever people have objections to giving when you make an ask, it’s always good to be prepared with an affirming response. You might respond with a phrase like, “I can appreciate that …” and let the silence fill the air. Watch what happens. Sometimes people just need to hear themselves explain why a gift is so important. It’s hard to be quiet at times like this but it’s crucial.

I like to ask for the total amount up front. Then BE QUIET. Let your ask sink in. Your cause is worthy of this level of investment. It’s worthy of their making it a top priority.

I’ve been told, “Make the ask and SHUT UP. He who speaks next…loses.” I’m not sure I like the confrontational nature of the statement…but it sure is the truth!

Once they’ve spoken, help them figure out how it could work. For example, a gift of $1000 is also $84/month.

Dealing with Objections

Have you ever asked for a gift and gotten neither a yes nor a no? Generally these are called “objections.” I used to fear objections because I was afraid I wouldn’t have the right answer. So I hoped they simply wouldn’t have any objections. Over the years, I’ve come to see objections are good. In most cases, they are an indication from the prospect that they are interested in learning more. Objections are actually the start of the conversation.

Sales guru Zig Ziglar claims that for any given sales experience, there are generally only four or five objections. If that’s true, why not pull your team together and have a brainstorm session? Put all the objections to making a gift to your cause—real, imagined, and off-the-wall—on sticky notes. Then put them up on the wall and try to clump them into similar categories: the “my kids are in college” category, the “this has been a hard year for my business” category, and so on. You’ll probably find they fit into four or five areas.

Now that you know what the most common objections are, brainstorm answers. As the group starts showing how these gifts are possible, the synergy becomes infectious. Now you can have prepared phrasing for peoples’ objections. These can even be worked into your “engage” activities or your “ask” presentation.

One phrase I’ve found to be very helpful is “I can appreciate that.” No matter what they say, you’re ability to appreciate it—even if you don’t agree—helps them feel less defensive. Another is the “Feel, Felt, Found” technique: “I know how you feel. I felt the same way. Here’s what I found…” This is particularly helpful if you did feel the same way as the prospect.

Another effective method for working with objections comes from Jeffrey Fox’s book How to be a Rainmaker. Fox recommends turning objections into objectives. If the prospect’s objection is, “I can’t possibly give to the campaign with both of my kids in college.” You can answer, “So our objective is to figure out how to make it so you can make the gift you want to to the campaign while spreading the pledge payments to make tuition payments easy. Is that it?” By turning the objection into an objective, you’ve put yourself on the same side of the table as the other person. Now you both are working together to figure out how to help the donor make the gift. You’ve taken a possibly challenging problem and made solving it a team effort.

So you’ve asked. Chances are they’ll make a gift at some level. But sometimes even with all the great work you’ve done, they decide not to give. That brings us to the final phase of the Get R.E.A.L. process: Love.


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