For most of us, fundraising isn’t something that comes naturally, especially a straight request for donations.
Asking for money, can be uncomfortable, right?
We all grew up learning that it wasn’t polite to talk about money and it definitely wasn’t right to ask your friends and family for handouts.
It’s the great irony of fundraising – we love to help but we don’t like to ask for help.
Here’s the reality: your passion and your vision require MONEY to fulfill.
You know this, and so does the general public.
Nonprofits rely on donations and unless you are independently wealthy and able to self-fund your organization, you’ll need to share with folks a request for donations.
Listen, starting a nonprofit is NOT a “build it and they will come” activity.
It takes much more than just opening your doors to get donations to come your way.
It takes commitment, guts, and a great story. It takes resilience so that every time you hear “no,” you don’t let it stop you, especially when times are hard, the economy is tanking, or some other crisis is looming. More about that in a minute.
Not only is asking for donations uncomfortable at times, but with SO many great causes out there to donate to, WHY would someone choose your cause? And how will they give if they are struggling to meet their own needs?
Keep reading. We have the answers you seek.
First: A Mindset Shift
Before you prepare your request for donations, the first thing you need to do is to shift your thinking.
If you, like many, find asking for money hard or distasteful, let’s reframe it, because when you come from a place of negativity, you’ll actually repel donations.
Even though it may go against your instincts to ask for money, it’s a must-do activity if you want your nonprofit to grow and thrive.
Let’s look at it another way. You’re not asking for money, you’re:
- Championing a cause you, and others, believe in.
- Meeting a pressing need.
- Changing the world.
Fundraising is not about you. It’s about those you serve. When you can separate yourself from the cause, it can ease the discomfort of asking for donations. You’re asking people to help you feed hungry families or save animals or provide scholarships for at-risk youth.
See how that works?
Now, let’s go a little deeper. What if you aren’t asking for money but asking someone to join you in changing lives? What if you focus on finding partners, not bringing in cash?
Look, fundraising is about connecting people who care with work that matters to them. They might do the work themselves if they had time, but they don’t, so, they give money to you because that’s a good way for them to get the work done. Your nonprofit is just the conduit for donors to accomplish their philanthropic desires.
Focusing on donors as partners instead of focusing on money can make a huge difference. It certainly did for me. When I’m all about the money, it’s a “yes/no” decision. When I focus on donors, it’s a matter of which program they want to support.
That makes a request for donations so much easier and more painless!
Okay, here’s one more technique that can work.
Pretend for a moment that the organization isn’t yours. Pretend it’s another charity you choose to support.
Getting into this mindset accomplishes a few things:
- It takes away any jitters about asking for donations because it isn’t personal.
- It removes the emotional charge around receiving “handouts.”
- It changes the focus of the Ask to the work the donation will make possible.
By changing your mindset around fundraising, you can make a better Ask because you’re coming from a place of positivity. You can make your request for donations about the impact your nonprofit is trying to make, which just makes fundraising easier.
Getting your mindset right is especially critical when the economy is uncertain. It’s easy to get scared and talk yourself out of asking if you think your donors are suffering.
“They can’t give – they don’t have any money right now” is a common thought when a recession is looming or another crisis is happening. I’ve heard many people decide not to send an appeal because the think their donors are giving all their money to relief in Ukraine.
Y’all. Donors give to causes that matter to them. People typically give to multiple nonprofits or causes at the same time (usually 3 to 5). That means your nonprofit’s work has never been the only thing that matters to them. And even if terrible things are happening or if donors are tightening their belt, if your cause matters to them, they will STILL GIVE. It might be a smaller gift than they usually give, but they’ll keep supporting your work to the best of their ability.
As long as you’re giving donors a great experience (thanking them well, communicating consistently, telling heartwarming stories, etc.), they’ll still give.
Soak that in.
Doesn’t that feel better already?
Okay, now that we’ve shifted your thinking, it’s time to refine your Ask.
The 4 W’s in Your Request for Donations
A strong Ask is the key to results.
In short, your request for donations must be very specific and succinct about what you need, why you need it, and why it’s needed NOW.
Every Ask should include the 4 W’s: Who, What, Why, and When.
Who: Who will benefit from the donation you are requesting? Use ADJECTIVES! Using heartstring words like “homeless,” “abandoned,” “deserving,” “malnourished,” “unjust,” “innocent,” etc., to describe the recipients of your services will help your potential donor connect with your cause. Doesn’t “deserving homeless veterans” tug at your heart more than just “veterans”? Just be sure to describe the population you serve with empathy, compassion, and respect so if one of your program participants sees it, they aren’t embarrassed by it.
What: What do you need? Donations? Supplies or other in-kind gifts Sponsorships for an event? Are you looking for major gifts to fund a capital campaign? How much money are you trying to raise? For what? Equipment? Vehicle? Supplies? Studies show that fundraisers with specific goal amounts are more successful than open-ended fundraisers. Your donors want to SEE that their dollars REALLY do make a difference in moving you towards your goal.
Why: Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of providing a vague reason. Nothing is more boring than boilerplate language: “Your donation will help us bridge the gap between mental illness and health care”. BORING! But a simple tweak on the same statement can become quite compelling. “There is a huge need for adequate medical care and attention for for those struggling with mental illness. Your donation will help provide rides to doctor appointments and advocacy for the patients who need and deserve this help.” Doesn’t that make you want to donate? Where do I sign up?
Whether you are asking for money or in-kind donations, the “why” should also include beautiful, powerful images of the recipients of the item you are asking for.
When: When do you need this money? When will it be too late? Why do you have this deadline? What will or won’t happen if this money is received by this date? Speak into the urgency of the need and why donations should be given NOW. Communicate urgency, give short deadlines, and explain all all of the Ws to create a powerful story.
If your nonprofit is experiencing a crisis or if you’re seeing donations start to dry up because of the economy or other reasons, it’s even more critical to use the 4Ws. You can actually turn the mess into a message. If cash donations to your pantry are slowing down, share that in your fundraising and remind donors that “For $11.25, we can provide an emergency food box to a family in need. A small donation today can keep our neighbors from putting children to bed hungry. Please give your best gift now.”
Speak The Donor’s Language
No matter how many times you ask for donations, always act as though your audience or your “askee” doesn’t know much about your nonprofit, especially your internal shorthand.
Don’t assume that your audience understands the needs of your organization (because they probably don’t even if you’ve told them before).
ALWAYS explain your needs as if the person hearing you has no idea what you do.
In fact, it’s best to assume that people are getting their first impression of your nonprofit in your request for donations.
Be fully prepared to answer the questions your donor probably already has in her mind.
Leave out the acronyms and jargon. These shortcuts leave too much room for confusion. And a confused mind always says “no.”
How to Word Your Request for Donations
The WAY you ask is just as important as what you’re asking for!
Depending on what type of fundraising effort you are working on, different approaches may work better in some cases than in others.
Sometimes you can ask for donations solely online; in other cases, it may be better through a one-on-one meeting, a presentation, or a phone call.
But no matter HOW you are asking, the basics remain the same.
Before you write that post/pick up the phone/set up that meeting, the best thing you can do is BE PREPARED (you’re seeing this theme a lot here – have you noticed?).
It’s a great idea to prepare an outline to follow, or a script to rehearse, so that you’ll be confident, clear, and determined!
Every request for donations should include the same elements:
- Small Talk/ Warm-up
- Connect/ Discuss/ Educate
- Wrap it Up
Let’s take a closer look at each element.
Small Talk/ Warm-up
Small talk is about establishing connection with your prospect.
It’s a bit easier if you’re making a call or meeting with someone in person, but it can still be accomplished in other ways like in a video call or in writing. Your job is to use a bit of small talk to put the potential donor at ease.
- In person or video chat, you can talk about the weather, ask them about hobbies or interests, or catch up with them if you know them personally. This should last about 5 minutes.
- If you’re presenting to a group, this time can be used to introduce yourself and share a VERY little bit about you and why/how you started the organization. Be brief and be yourself. Your passion will come through.
- In writing, small talk can be similar if you are writing to one person. However, if you’re posting on social media or sending out a newsletter, small talk should just be warm and fuzzy talk, plain and simple. In writing a newsletter, this should be a short paragraph. Or, depending on your Ask, it may make more sense to get straight to an engaging story to hook the reader’s attention.
It’s time to begin steering the conversation to the organization and the point of your “meeting” even if it’s happening on social media or in a letter.
Your transition makes it clear that it’s time to get serious and talk shop. This is a great way to set the stage and present this as an opportunity for them to help, and not as a favor to you.
- In person, on the phone, or video chat, it could sound something like, “I’m here today to talk to you about something I believe matters to you.” Or “You know why I asked you here today. Thanks for meeting me. I want to share some things we are working on that you might be interested in.”
- If you’re presenting to a group, you can say something very similar, and use these couple of minutes to pass out materials if you have any.
- In writing, it’s virtually the same thing. Tell them about the need you’re trying to address and how they can help.
By now, you and your donor should both be in a comfortable zone. It’s time to get down to business and pave the way to your Ask.
The first step is to “get on the same side of the table” with your prospect. In other words, state something you both believe about your cause. This will get your prospect nodding and agreeing with you and that’s a good place for them to be before you present your Ask.
- In person, on the phone, or video chat, you want to reaffirm your connection. “I know you hate litter at the park. So do I.” “I know you have a special place in your heart for the elephants and believe that they deserve a sanctuary; that’s our mission, too.”
- If you’re presenting to a group, you can say something to pull them in. “Listen, I know that everyone in this room cares about the water we drink.”
- In writing, a great lead-in is “If you are reading this post/newsletter/email, I know you care about the children as much as we do.”
Then, Educate. Think back to your 3 W’s. Tell your story. Educate people about the need. Show stunning and powerful images. Tell them what you’re working on (A new shelter? Trash cans in that park? Lobbying for a law to change?). Tell them WHO benefits and WHY your project is needed NOW.
Be sure to include a sense of urgency here so your prospect understands why their help is needed NOW.
- In person or when presenting to a group, be fully prepared to discuss, answer questions, and educate. Keep the conversation flowing for 15-20 minutes.
- In writing, be clear about the important facts and let your reader know how to reach you anytime if they have questions.
Okay, here’s your moment! It’s time to ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED!
- In person, on the phone, and in video chat, “Would you be willing to help us save more kittens with a donation toward our new incubator?”
- If presenting to a group, “Now that you’ve heard the need, I challenge each of you to consider getting involved or making a donation. There are envelopes here if you’d like to give now, or you can donate online on our website.”
- In writing, get straight to it like this: “You can help more children get the tutoring they need. Your gift of (dollar amount) will provide a week’s worth of after-school sessions with a tutor plus snacks and supervised play time. Click right here to donate.”
This is most critical when you’re asking in person, on the phone, or in video chat. A dramatic pause can be very impactful when presenting to a group.
But for the person-to-person situation, a pause gives them a moment to think.
If you’ve judged the situation and your prospect’s interests correctly, this person is thinking about how much is in their bank accounts, what other commitments they have, and whether they can say “yes” now or if they need to check on a few things.
If you start talking, you just interrupted their train of thought.
So, just pause. Silently.
This one is TOUGH. But do it.
Give your prospect a chance to soak it in and then let them speak next.
They may have questions or want clarification on something.
The hard part is over and it’s time to chat. Answer questions and provide more info as the donor needs it.
For in-person, phone, or video chat, spend as much time as feels appropriate answering their questions. If your prospect needs time to think, set up the next appointment before you leave or finish your conversation so you both have an expectation of when they need to make a decision.
For a group, having a short Q&A time at the end of your presentation can give them a chance to better understand the need.
In writing, you can address common questions that people have about what you’ve asked for and provide a link where they can learn more.
When you follow this formula, you’ll nail your request for donations every time.
Tips for Making a Request for Donations
When Asking for Donations, keep these tips in mind:
Treat every donor as a new donor. Don’t assume they know anything about your work.
Be concise and clear when asking for donations, using as few words as possible.
Ask for a specific amount.
Tug at heartstrings in your Ask.
Focus your Ask on the recipients of your nonprofit’s services. This is ALL about them.
For face-to-face Asks, tell the person why you want to meet with them when you call to request an appointment.
Always use the word “we” when talking about the organization.
Thank them for their time, even if they don’t give.
Have a next step or next check-in identified before the conversation is over.
Apologize for asking for donations.
Use jargon or industry-specific language.
Tell the potential donor that your organization is in trouble or that you don’t know WHAT you’ll do without this money.
Use the word “I” too much. Careful now, you’re making it personal again!
For a face-to-face Ask, don’t blindside a person who thought they were just meeting you for coffee.
Talk too much. Say what you need to say and then listen.
Take no for an answer without asking why. Don’t be whiny here – come from a place of genuinely wanting to understand why this Ask isn’t a good fit for them. It will help you make your next request for donations better!
Leave the meeting without another meeting or connection scheduled.
Remember Why You’re Here
If you still just can’t get over that hurdle of asking for donations, one surefire way to build your courage is to spend some time thinking about the last person or animal or family or forest or child or senior or whoever your nonprofit helped.
You started this crazy journey because you believed in your mission.
Now, picture someone you have helped.
Don’t they deserve the very best you can give them? Don’t they deserve your voice and your passion?
That animal deserved to be saved and so many others do, too.
That rainforest is burning and it deserves for us to care.
Those children deserve the education they will receive in the school you are helping to build.
Your recipients matter.
And YOU are their voice.
So, get that request for donations out there!
Because it doesn’t matter if there’s a recession coming or another world crisis around the corner. Who knows what will happen next.
And really, it doesn’t matter. You must keep telling your story and asking for support, regardless of what the economy is doing or what you might be afraid of.
Be brave. Be passionate. Advocate. For them.
Because they need you to be.