Let’s talk about what an ask is not before we define what it is, just to be sure we’re on the same page.
Mentioning that your organization needs money is notan ask.
Talking about why you need money is not an ask.
Explaining your nonprofit’s financial status is not an ask.
Spelling out how much you need, why you need it and then directly asking someone to give a certain portion of that amount—that is an ask.
You’ve probably heard that one of the main reasons people use for not donating to a nonprofit organization is, “They didn’t ask me to.” If that’s true, then it’s crucial to your fundraising efforts to understand exactly what a good ask entails. If people need to be asked to give, that’s fine—you’ll be prepared to ask and ask well.
Here are eight important elements of an ask that gets results.
Good rapport. Before you meet your prospect, figure out what his key interests are and how you could align those interests with your organization’s needs. Donors generally have a couple of key charitable interests, and the better you connect their interests with your mission, the better rapport you’ll develop. Think of an ask as two forces combining to create synergy—not as a sales pitch. You’re already on the same team; you just need to figure out what position he plays.
Compelling need. During an ask, you are the face and voice of your nonprofit organization. It’s important to bring a compelling need to your prospect and humanize your fundraising efforts. Instead of, “We need $20,000 to stay in the black this quarter,” try “A $20,000 gift will allow us to feed the hundreds of families that will come to us for a meal during the holiday season.” Paint a visual picture and create an emotional appeal even more than a financial one.
A deadline. Never leave an ask open-ended. Give your prospect a deadline if he doesn’t say yes immediately—it’s good to create a sense of urgency. “We appreciate your consideration and understand why you’d like to think before making this gift. May we have your answer by next Friday? We’d love to meet all the needs of the families we serve this quarter.”
Request for a specific donation amount. If you need a $100,000 general operating gift and the donor has that giving potential, then ask for it. If you need an additional $25,000 to complete the new addition to your shelter, ask for that. Always go in knowing how much you need and how it will be used.
A pause. Sometimes we approach an ask as if it’s our job to do all the talking. Actually, listening is equally important. Once you spell out your need and ask for a specific amount, stop. Let him respond. This can be uncomfortable and seem to last forever, but a pause allows your prospect to gather his thoughts. A useful tip: Keep a glass of water nearby so that you can take a sip after making the ask for a brief break in the conversation. Then let him respond while you wait.
Plan B. You made the ask, and she said, “No.” No problem. Now find out why? Did she mean, “No, not right now?” Or, “No, not that amount?” Or, “No, not all at once?” You should always have a follow-up plan, but that plan depends on your prospect’s reason for saying no. Ask questions—don’t take no for an answer immediately. You may be able to make a few adjustments (lower the amount, arrange a payment plan, etc.) that will turn her no into a yes.
Thank-you. Of course, this is important and you know that, but it couldn’t be left unsaid: Thank your donor in person, with a follow-up note, a phone call or whatever method you deem appropriate. Just be sure he knows how appreciated he and his gift are. Gratitude is key to turning a one-time donor into a recurring one.
Follow-up plan. Call back prospects that said maybe. Give those that said yes another opportunity to give down the road. Always look ahead and create a plan to engage with your prospects and new donors until you’re sure that person is definitely not interested. It’s all about creating relationships.
Mostly, remember this: An ask is not about wrenching a check out of some guy’s hand. Your job is to ask, and it is his job to decide. That takes the pressure off both of you if you understand the role each of you plays in the donation process.
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