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7 Ways To Tell and Ask in Fundraising

Everyone that leads a ministry or runs a nonprofit has grappled with the tough task of fundraising. Asking donors for financial support, asking volunteers for their time and energy and asking key investors to partner with you consistently becomes a way of life.

Which of these 3 classical funding philosophies describes your current fundraising perspective?

George Mueller: “Don’t Tell and Don’t Ask”

Hudson Taylor: “Tell and yet Don’t Ask”

Dwight L. Moody: “Tell and Ask”

While there may be a time and place for each of these perspectives, in most situations I tend to agree with Author Scott Morton who said, “Money doesn’t always follow ministry. I’ve found that money follows asking.”

If you freeze up making “the ask”, here are 7 tips that will help from my friend Jon Bennett, Sr. Consultant at Generis.

#1 – Care more about the person than the gift.

People who have a lot of money are used to being hit up for all sorts of needs and causes. They are used to being treated like an ATM.

So don’t do it! Don’t build relationships with people just to put yourself in a position to get something, even if it’s for a good cause. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and that means caring about the person as a human being not just a potential donor.

#2 – Invest in the relationship before you ask.

By the time you ask someone to make a significant contribution, they should already understand what you do and why it matters. They should already be interested in your ministry and should already be involved at some level. The big contribution should not be their first contribution.

If the first thing you ask for is a significant contribution, you’ve missed the boat.

#3 – Understand it’s a process not a presentation.

You can probably tell by now, there’s a relational theme here. But asking for a significant contribution is more of a process than a presentation. Bring someone along and helping them develop an affinity with your cause is absolutely key to asking for anything.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Make seven personal touches for every ask. Remember, cultivation is more important than solicitation.

#4 – Do your homework.

When you do sit down for coffee with a potential donor, you should be ready for the conversation. Sure, this means you know your ministry and the opportunity inside and out. But you also need to do your homework on the person:

What do they really care about? What causes do they already support? How do they spend their time? What kind of things do they like? Where are they already involved?

Prepare for the meeting – not just by knowing your needs but by knowing the other person. A lot of this information should come out naturally as you’ve built a relationship, but do your homework.

#5 – Talk about benefits not just needs.

Most ministries and non-profits get this backwards, and that’s understandable. Of course you’re excited about the ministry. Of course you’re excited about the opportunity. You are highly committed to your cause and you believe in what you’re doing. So when you go into these meetings, it’s easy to lead with the opportunity and talk all about the ministry. But this is a mistake.

Make it about the donor, not your organization. Talk about what can happen in the life of the donor, not simply what you’re going to do with the money. Make it about benefits to the person, not the needs of the organization. Why should this person give? What’s in it for them? If you can’t answer those questions, you’re not ready to have the conversation.

#6 – Don’t be afraid to ask.

The biggest obstacle to fundraising isn’t the economy or the abundance of opportunity. It’s often fear. There will come a time in the life of every ministry leader when you have to make a bold ask. And in these moments, it’s time to go for it. Don’t let fear cripple you. Don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from having the conversation. It may feel awkward, but do it anyway. Very few people will give without being asked, so own it.

#7 – Be ready to follow up and follow through.

If you hear a “yes,” great! It’s time to follow up. Make sure you say thanks, provide instructions, and keep building the relationship. But “no” also means it’s time to follow up. Say thanks. Keep sharing stories. Keep building the relationship. Remember, it was about the person not the donation. Follow up work is some of the most important work in fundraising, so don’t skip this step.

Action Steps

Are you cultivating relationships with potential donors?

Who are two or three people you need to reach out to this week?


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