One of the most common questions I get asked by fundraisers and aspiring fundraisers is, “How do you politely ask for donations?”
I get asked this question by both new fundraisers and those that have been in the business for a long time. And it’s not only fundraisers that ask this question. It’s also executive directors, board members, and volunteers.
What I’ve realized over time is that when people ask, “Joe… how do you politely ask for donations?” they are really asking one of two completely different questions.
Do I Really Have to Make Asks?
When someone asks me “How do you politely ask for donations?” what they most often mean is, “Do I really have to make asks?” These fundraisers and board members believe in the mission of their non-profits, and they want to be helpful. But they’re hoping there’s another way to raise money without being so bold and forward.
Maybe we can just mention our fundraising campaign in a letter we send… not make an ask, mind you, but mention that it is happening and tell people where they can go if they are interested in learning more. Or perhaps we can just hold an event and send out nice invitations and people can buy tickets if they want. That would be a polite way to make an ask!
The truth is that if you want your fundraising program to succeed, you need to focus on individual fundraising, and in particular, on major and mid-level donors. These types of donors require personal cultivation and personal asks (particularly for major donors). This means that someone needs to sit down across from the donor (or call them on the phone or meet with them over Zoom) and directly ask them for money.
All of that to say, yes… you really have to make asks, at least if you want your non-profit to succeed. If your organization does great work, then it needs more money to do even more good things. The way to raise that money – and to build a sustainable development program – is by making personal asks to your major and mid-level donors.
Won’t People Get Mad at Me When I Ask Them for Money?
There’s another common reason why people ask me “How do you politely ask for donations?” Sometimes, what they really mean to say is, “Won’t people get mad at me when I ask them for money?” In other words, they’re saying, “it’s not polite to ask for money… can you tell me how to make it polite?”
Here’s the honest truth: when it comes to fundraising, we need to be focused on making a difference, not on being polite. We need to be focused on emotion, and on passion, and on casting a vision. Those are the things that will make people want to give. Sure, it’s important to respect your donors… and you never want to browbeat them or make them feel bad. But you shouldn’t worry too much about “being polite.”
That being said, in twenty years of fundraising I have never seen a donor or prospect get mad about being asked. Sometimes donors say no. Sometimes donors think you asked them for too much or too little. But if you’re casting a vision and if you’ve cultivated them well, they’re not going to get mad at you for asking them for money.
Let Your Asks Be Asks!
The same fundraisers who ask me, “How do you politely ask for donations?” often are the same fundraisers who beat around the bush when making asks. They are worried about making people mad and feel uncomfortable making asks. Instead of getting right to the point, they hem and they haw and they never get around to making a real ask. And then they get mad when the donor doesn’t make a gift (even though the donor was never even really asked to give).
I actually think that this type of fundraising is the most impolite type of fundraising there is. If you’re not making clear and direct asks to your donor, you’re wasting their time. Your donors want to make a difference in the world, and your non-profit is a great way for them to do that. So don’t be bashful. Don't beat around the bush. Let your asks be asks! Ask your donors to get involved and make a gift. The worst they can say is no!
How Do You Politely Ask for Donations?
Once you get over these hurdles, it’s easier to ask for donations. Once you understand how important making direct asks is, and that your donors and prospects won’t be mad at you because you asked… there should be less stress and anxiety involved with making your asks.
On the other hand, when some fundraisers ask me, “Joe, how do you politely ask for donations?” what they really mean is that they need a formula to follow for the ask conversation… a simple way to make asks and get donors to say, “yes!” The good news is that we have come up with a simple, easy-to-use ask formula that you can use for all of your asks, either in person, over the phone, or through video calls.
The simple 6-step formula appears in our article How to Make Successful Fundraising Asks Over the Phone. And though the article talks about phone asks, the conversation is the same for in-person and video call asks. Learn it and use it, and your donors will be happy to give to support your work!