In working with hundreds of non-profits over the years, one of the biggest issues I have found is that most organizations aren’t making enough in-person asks.
Most non-profits are asking for donations regularly. They’re asking through appeal letters, e-mail, event invitations and other channels. But far too many organizations are hesitant when it comes to having face-to-face ask conversations with their donors. This is a huge mistake, because when it comes to fundraising, nothing is as effective as an in-person ask.
There are many reasons why non-profits aren’t making enough face-to-face asks. Some organizations think that they don’t have enough time (or staff) to make personal asks. Other fundraisers are convinced (wrongly) that other ask methods can be as effective as personal cultivation for major and mid-level givers.
But in my experience, the number one reason why most non-profits aren’t doing enough in-person asks is that many fundraisers feel a certain level of stress, fear, and anxiety about asking for donations face-to-face. This fear is sometimes right on the surface, but is more often felt subconsciously. In this article, we’re going to look at how you can move past fear and anxiety when asking for donations for your non-profit.
Conscious or Subconscious Fear of Asking
No one is immune from feeling stress or anxiety when it comes to making fundraising asks. Everyone, even the most seasoned fundraiser, had felt some fear at one point or another when walking into an ask. We wonder how the donor will respond. We worry that the person we are meeting with will say “no,” or will be somehow offended that we are asking for a donation.
While this fear is sometimes overt, more often it rears its head as a subtle anxiety or base level of stress when it comes to asks. Instead of being “afraid” to make an ask, we dread going into work on the days when we are having ask meetings, or secretly celebrate when a donor calls to push a meeting back by a week or two.
This subtle feeling of anxiety when it comes asking for donations often ends up making fundraisers look for alternative ways to raise money. Instead of going out for donor cultivation meetings and in-person asks, we convince ourselves that sending out an appeal letter or holding an event is “just as good.” Of course, this isn’t true. Events, appeal letters, and other fundraising strategies can and should be an important part of your fundraising mix, but if you want to build a sustainable fundraising program, nothing can replace in-person donor cultivation.
Ask yourself… do you stress out about fundraising asks? Do you have an underlying fear or anxiety when it comes to going out to meet with donors in-person? Do you dread sitting across the table to ask a donor for $5,000? If so, that’s ok – it’s important to recognize this fear or anxiety, and there are tried and true ways to get through that anxiety and make even more successful asks for your non-profit.
You Don’t Need to Stress about Asking for Donations
The most important thing for you, as a fundraiser, to realize when it comes to making asks is that you don’t need to feel any anxiety about asking for donations. I know this is easier said than done, but it is essential that you think through this statement and come to truly believe it:
Our non-profit does great work. Our non-profit changes lives. There’s no reason to be shy about asking for money to do our work.
That single statement is one of the most important things for everyone who is involved with a non-profit to understand and to believe. This includes fundraisers, program staff, executives, and board members. Everyone at your non-profit should understand that fundraising is essential to what you do, and that without fundraising, your programs would cease to exist.
You must believe in your mission. You must believe in your fundraising program. You must believe that asking for donations is about inviting your donors to partner with you in your work to make the world a better place. Your donors want to give. They want to be involved in a story bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference in the world. Your non-profit is a way for them to do that. And for donors with the capacity to give major (and in many cases, mid-level) gifts, the best way to invite them to do that is through an in-person ask.
3 Tips for Asking for Donations without Anxiety
Ok, so you know how important it is to ask for gifts in-person, and you know that there’s no need to feel fear or anxiety when asking for donations. What are the best ways to prevent that stress and anxiety from occurring, and to stop it when it does? Here are three tips for making face-to-face asks without any anxiety:
#1 – Practice!
The single best way to get past fear and anxiety when asking for gifts is to practice. The more you get out there and make asks, the better you will feel about the process. As you make asks every week, month, and year, the conversations will become second nature and you will see just how happy your donors are that you are asking them to support your work. In other words, when it comes to asks, the best advice is to just do it… it may stress you out at first, but that stress will dissipate before you know it.
If you’re relatively new to making in-person asks, have some practice meetings with your colleagues or some trusted volunteers first. Use these “practice asks” to run through your script, to help you anticipate donor questions, and to get used to saying the words, “Would you be able to make a $10,000 gift this year to support our work?”
#2 – Cultivate First, then Ask
Many non-profits make the mistake of asking for donations before they have properly cultivated their prospects. This results in lots of donors saying “no” or “not right now” when you ask them for money… which of course leads to lots of stress and anxiety for fundraisers!
Cultivation shouldn’t take forever, but it is a process. Every single prospect at your non-profit should be cultivated before they are asked. Your team should be building relationships with donors before asking them for a gift. The cultivation process helps alleviate stress about asking because as your prospects become more and more involved with your organization, making a financial gift becomes the logical next step.
#3 – Make Some Stewardship Calls
Many fundraisers find that when they are feeling anxiety about asking for donations, making stewardship calls can be a great antidote. Stewardship calls are thank you calls to current donors… calls where you let the donor know how much you appreciate their past support, and fill them in on all of the great work that they funded with their recent gifts to your organization.
Stewardship calls are easy, because you are not asking the donor for anything… instead, you are recognizing donors for what they have already done for your non-profit. These calls can help lessen any stress you feel about making in-person asks because they give you an opportunity to see how excited your donors are to be a part of your work.
When you make a thank you call, you are talking to someone who was asked for a donation and said, “yes!” During the call, you’ll see how glad the person is that they were asked to invest in your work. After making a number of stewardship calls, you’ll be excited about giving more donors the chance to invest… and ready to go out to meet with your prospects to ask them to make gifts to your organization.
Photo Credit: Bob Smith