How To Make The Ask

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Asking someone directly for their monetary support is the greatest chance you have of getting it. Research has shown that email blasts and letter campaigns are far less effective than a person-to-person conversation about what your group does and why you need a donor’s support. You increase your chances for obtaining a gift even more when you can find a way to make the donor relate to your cause. How will it directly affect his or her life? What do you do that matters to this donor? And what will their donation enable your group to accomplish? Remember to address what’s in it for the donor. Tax write-offs—for both an individual and a corporation—and having the chance to make a difference can be good motivators.

Know your prospect before asking for their support.

People say the number one reason they don’t give charitably is because they haven’t been asked. The American Red Cross has utilized this message in its "Consider Yourself Asked" ad campaigns geared to motivate blood donations. While the principle behind this campaign is a good one, a mass message blast to "consider yourself asked" is unlikely to generate major-gift support. A personal connection is vital, and so is adequate preparation.

First, know what your prospect is interested in. If you can find the information through research or word of mouth, look for records of or his past donations, membership in professional associations, or participation in other organizations.

Consider what they already know about your group, what they may still need to know, and what they know about your group vs. other groups. A person isn’t likely to make as high a donation as she currently makes to her favorite charity, but you can build up to this level.

With corporate donors, how you position your request can help. For example, make your request less of a sales pitch/solicitation and more of a discussion or exploration of the corporation’s and organization’s mutual interests. See the principles of value-driven donor development for more on this.

Position your cause so your prospect can relate to it.

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Be specific.

Tell prospects specifically why you need their help and what you would do with their money. Is it for a specific program that they’re interested in? Are you expanding to serve more people? Are you going to serve a new neighborhood?

Relate back to why and how it affects the donor or something important to the donor. Make it a narrative, invoke an image, and tell a story. Also mention potential cost benefits to the donor, like tax write-offs.

The Heifer Project creates a narrative for each donation.

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Make it a dialogue.

Make your request in person whenever possible. It’s much easier to ignore an email or phone solicitation, no matter how formal or well prepared, than it is to say no to an in-person appeal (especially when you’ve organized a meeting with your prospect in advance). If possible, have the person from your group with the most connections to the prospect ask for a donation.

One strategy for negotiating a donation is to discuss a monthly pledge. A $100 annual donation is around $8 per month. Put it in terms donor can easily relate to—on a per-month basis, for example, $8 is only two lattes, or one deli sandwich. Be specific about what that dollar amount will do—what resources it will buy; in what ways the resources will be used; who they will serve; and how it will directly affect the donor, their community, and the people they care about.

Finally, listen to your supporters—and don’t just listen when they give you money. People will have a vested interest in your organization if they are heard. Balance their suggestions with what you know is best for the organization, but always be appreciative of their input and time.