For most of us, fundraising isn’t something that comes naturally, especially a straight request for donations.
Asking for money goes against everything we were ever taught, 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 goes against the grain of everything we’ve ever learned! Not to mention, it feels like bad manners and downright yucky.
But 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.
Not only is asking for donations really uncomfortable when you first start out, but with SO many great causes out there to donate to, WHY would someone choose your cause?
Keep reading. We have the answers you seek.
You CAN get over this hurdle, and the more you ask, the better you will get. Practice does make perfect!
A Shift in Mindset
As you prepare your request for donations, the first thing you need to master is your mindset.
Even though it goes against your instincts to “ask for money,” you need to realize that YOU aren’t “asking for money.”
You are championing a cause you believe in.
You are trying to make a difference in this world.
You are asking people to join you in changing lives.
When you can separate yourself from the cause, it can ease the discomfort of asking for donations.
Remember that the donations you are asking for are not for your benefit. The money will help those your nonprofit serves.
However, in the beginning, asking for money feels really personal. It feels like you’re asking Jon Q. Donor to give money to YOU.
The donor may feel like they’re doing YOU a favor or that they’re helping YOU out. This is uncomfortable to say the least, but beyond that – it’s not true.
When you are asking for donations, it’s critically important that you separate yourself from your organization. This might feel like Mission Impossible because it’s likely that you ARE your organization, at least in the public eye. But it can be done with some retraining of your brain.
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 your jitters about asking for donations because it’s isn’t personal.
- It removes your feelings about receiving “handouts.”
- It changes the focus of your Ask to the organization, and not you.
By changing your mindset, you can shift your Ask. You can make it about a job you are doing, asking for donations, and not about asking for a personal favor.
Doesn’t that feel better already?
Once you’ve gotten into the mindset that your request for donations is actually a very crucial part of your job and the organization’s success, it’s time to refine your Ask.
The 3 W’s in Your Request for Donations
A strong Ask is the key to results.
A strong Ask means being very specific and succinct about what you need and why you need it.
Every Ask should include the 3 W’s: Who, What, and Why.
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 heartstrings more than “veterans”? Describe the population you serve with empathy and compassion.
What: What do you need? Are you looking for in-kind donations? Sponsorship 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 inching 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 those struggling with mental illness to receive adequate medical care and attention. Your donation will help us reach our goal and provide services such as 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.
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 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 in a lot of my material, 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 introductory paragraph.
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, 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 thought I could share some things we are working on that you might want to support.”
- 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. Start your second paragraph by telling them that you’re excited about what’s coming, and that you’re sharing your news with them so that they can be a part of it if they’d like.
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; that’s why I wanted to connect with you.”
- 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.” “Well now that we’ve spent all this time together, I’m hoping you love dogs as much as I do.”
- In writing, a great lead-in is “If you are reading this post/newsletter/email, I already know you care about the work we are doing.”
Then, Educate. Think back to your 3 W’s. Tell your story. Educate 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.
Be sure to include a sense of urgency here so your prospect understand 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, let your reader know how to reach you anytime if they have any questions for you.
Okay, here’s your moment! ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED!
- In person, on the phone, and in video chat, “Now that I’ve had the chance to share all of this with you and show you why there’s such a need, would you be willing or able to help us with a donation of (dollar amount)?
- If presenting to a group, “Now that I’ve had the chance to share all of this with you and show you why there’s such a need, would you be willing or able to help us with a donation? There are envelopes here if you’d like to make a gift, or you can donate online and I can show you how.”
- In writing, “Now that I’ve had the chance to share all of this with you and show you why there’s such a need, would you be willing or able to help us with a donation of (dollar amount)? You can click right here to make a donation.”
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.
Be patient here. Answer questions and provide more info as the donor needs it.
For a group, having a short Q&A time at the end of your presentation can give them a chance to better understand.
In writing, you can address common questions that people have about what you’ve asked for.
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.
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.
Have a specific amount in mind that you want to ask for.
Tug at heartstrings in your Ask.
Focus your Ask on the recipients of your nonprofit’s services. This is ALL about them.
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 donate.
Blindside a person who thought they were just meeting you for coffee.
Apologize for asking for donations.
Use jargon or industry-specific language.
Talk too much. Say what you need to say and then listen.
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!
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!
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/whatever it is 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!
Be brave. Be passionate. Advocate. For them.
Because they need you to be.