The Art of Asking

The first time I asked someone to donate to a charitable cause I made a complete hash of it. To be fair, it was a wealthy potential donor with an impressive array of defensive strategies to deploy against an inexperienced fundraiser. In an earlier blog, Two ears two eyes one mouth, I described “the highwayman approach” as an example of how not to do it, but I didn’t do much better. The conversation was over in less than 5 minutes and I was left trying to patch together my dismembered ego. That was my first lesson in the Art of Asking.

Like all skills, asking for money needs developing. The first time you try it you are naturally tense and nervous and it shows. Your emotional state affects the person you are talking to. They sense your unease and their natural reaction is “Why is he tense? What is he hiding?” It affects the way they view your proposal. Confidence is an essential component of the Art of Asking. Gradually, you learn that asking for money is a conversation about a mutual interest, not a confrontation. So relax while you discover if you have something in common.

For that first attempt I didn’t have a plan. Because I was passionate about the cause I assumed everyone else was. I had no support team, no script for developing the subject, no relationship with the potential donor. I would have benefitted from my recent post So who gets the money?

You will find a lot more about the Art of Asking in Fundraising the Essentials for Success. I give it special emphasis because it is the climax of all your previous work. People, Preparation and Practice are the key words. I’ve talked about People in the above-mentioned blog. The process of Preparation contains one vital one question- “Is the prospect ready to donate to the cause?” If you don’t know, your preparation is incomplete.

You need to know the answer. It’s highly likely your CEO is part of the team for a major ask. Not good for their ego or your job if the answer is NO. It’s awkward for all parties and damaging for future relations with that donor. In these situations, knowing the answer before-hand is vital. Its an essential part of the Art of Asking.

Practice is the other element. Practice breeds confidence, particularly practicing how much you are going to ask for. Many times I have heard someone stumble over the actual amount they are asking for, particularly when it is a significant sum. A hesitant request sounds like you don’t have full confidence in the cause. You need to be Standing in the Donor’s shoes. Although it’s not a level of gift you could even start to consider, it’s not an issue with the prospect. You must know that from your research. And  Maslow’s triangle of need should inform your confidence.

Fundraisers often underline their own lack of belief. Before the prospect has had time to draw breath comes the follow-up, “if that’s too much we could discuss a lesser amount.” Most people are only too happy to accept a bargain.

An aphorism of the fundraising world is “If it doesn’t hurt you aren’t giving enough” So respect the silence of the prospect. You’ve asked them a serious question. Give them time contemplate how much they are prepared to hurt.

Believe in the cause, be confident and take your time; essential elements of the Art of Asking