Honoring non-profit organizations: Challenges and tasks that all non-profit boards face

When first introduced to the idea of contacting community leaders to request a donation to a specific cause, I was scared, very uneasy, didn’t know what to say – bottom line, I really did not want to do it. So my excuse was “I am not able to ask customers to donate to a specific cause” thinking that would stop the discussion. Well, it did for a while but then a very bright individual asked me “Jeanne, does the entire Sacramento Region bank with the bank you work for?” Well, guess what, I took some training and learned that asking someone to donate is a gift to the donor, yes a gift, because they are able to support causes they are passionate about while making an impact in the community.

It is important to get some training and know what to do so you become comfortable in making the Ask.

It can be intimidating to ask someone for money because you don’t know what questions they might have for you, or they may not know for sure if your cause is their passion and “no” is not always easy to accept.

There are different types of Asks. For example, there is an Individual, Corporate and Sponsorship Ask. Here are a few tips from the Fund Raising Coach to remember when making an Ask:

  • Research the Potential Donor
    Research your prospective donor. Find out what causes they have donated to in the past. Does it match up to your mission? What are the things they talk about when discussing their passions? What causes are they involved in? What do they care about? What other causes are they a part of? Do they have a history of giving?Today it is relatively easy to find the answers to these questions. You can secure this information from other board members, staff, friends and colleagues in addition to searching online.You may not be able to get all the information you think you need but remember the first and sometimes second meeting with a new or potential donor is to find out more about their interest and, to get to know them so you can speak to their interests.I know that as an employee or Board Member of a nonprofit you are passionate about your cause, but the first step when making an Ask is to find out what the donor’s passion is so you can speak to THEIR interest.
  • Practice the Ask
    When you are new at making an Ask, or if you are going to be asking for an amount greater than what you typically might request, practice every aspect of your Ask. Don’t be afraid to write it down and go over it several times before the appointment with the donor.By practicing, you will have a greater understanding of the talking points, how to tactfully and graciously address common objections which will then allow you not to think about objections but focus on just talking to the donor.Know the plan and think about how you are going to speak with them on the phone, how you want to structure the meeting, how long for small talk in the beginning and then how to begin the ask. Smile, smile, smile and be confident. If you are not smiling and not confident you donor may not be engaged. They may know you are uncomfortable so they become uncomfortable with you.
  • Never Surprise Your Prospect
    I remember reading recently that a potential donor should never be surprised you are asking them for money. I cannot agree more.When you call a potential donor and you tell them what non-profit you are representing, most donors immediately know you will be asking for money.Be upfront with your potential donor. If it is the first meeting let them know you would like to get to know them and what interest they have in giving within the community. Then when meeting with them you will know if you have a program or campaign that might interest them. This approach is much less threating. You may know or discover they have a high passion for what you are doing so can speak to that passion by LISTENING to what their needs are.
  • Listen
    People like to talk about their interest and your LISTENING skill is the major key to an Ask’s success. When meeting a new potential donor they have an idea of who you are, but do you know who they are? Listening means you listen and not think about what their next question is going to be. By trying to anticipate what they might say, you are not listening. Give the donor your undivided attention. If they are slow talkers, don’t fill in the sentence for them, listen and give them time to speak. Take a breath before answering a question to give yourself an opportunity to mentally review their question before answering.
  • Silence
    Have you ever been in a conversation and the person across from you just looks at you and doesn’t say a word. Or maybe you are the person not speaking. Well, we all know how uncomfortable it is when silence hits the room. Give your donor a chance to think about what you are saying. Maybe they want to gather their thoughts before they respond. If you speak before the donor is ready, this will not allow your donor to inform you of what they really want to convey to you.If you ask a question and the donor responds you can respond with something like “how interesting” and then go silent. The donor will then expand on their comments because you have gone silent and they want to clarify their position or give you more information so you understand their position. Try it, it works, although it may feel a little awkward at first.
  • Specific Amount
    There are different types of Asks. For example, there is an Individual, Corporate and Sponsorship Ask. Here are a few tips from the Fund Raising Coach to remember when making an Ask:Ask for a specific amount when making an Ask.
    “Would you consider a gift of $_____” Asking is challenging enough. A question like “Would you consider a gift of $_____” accomplishes two things. First, it takes the pressure off the asker. People visibly relax when they hear that this is a good fundraising phrase. This feels like something they can naturally say. Second, this phrase encourages askers to use a specific dollar amount. “Will you support our cause?” is a vapid cop-out for truly asking for money. One person’s idea of “support” may be $250 when you’d rated her as a $25,000 prospect. Do the donor prospect the courtesy of plainly telling them what number you’re thinking about. A non-confrontational question like “Would you consider a gift of $25,000?” accomplishes just that.“Honestly, I have NO idea how much to ask you for, but is a gift of $[amount] something you’d be able to consider?” Honesty is quite disarming. And despite our best research, peer reviews, and calculated guessing, there are times we really don’t know how much to ask someone for. This is basically a request for help: Could you help me know how much I might ask you for? If you’re in the ballpark they’ll tell you. And if you’re too high, they’ll tell you too.

I understand that asking for money can be intimidating. But it’s also an immense privilege. You’re inviting other people to take action on a cause that they genuinely care about. You’re selling significance by giving them a gift. And at the end of the day, most people don’t mind feeling like they’re making an impact on the world.

If you and/or your board would like training on asking for donations, please contact us.

By Kerry Sokol