Fundraising: Knowing When & How to Ask

Over the years I have spent a lot of time meeting with people who were raising money, and raising money myself.  There’s a phrase that fundraisers talk about called “The Ask.”  This is when you arrive at the point to actually ask a person to give their money to your work/project.  For most of us, it is at this point where we get really nervous.  I know a few guys who live for “The Ask”, but their weirdos. (Joking, kind of).  The rest of us have that moment of grand insecurity that only our passion and belief in the work ahead of us lets us push through.

In fact, I have some friends who have supported my ministry who hate to be directly asked for money.  One in particular, and he prefers to know the need and then to prayerfully discern if he needs to be involved and if so, how much.  I have another friend who likes to be asked.  He is a praying man, but he says he’s not a mind reader.  Other people love just getting an email or an update asking for their help.  There are two take-aways from this: 1) Everyone is different, get to know them; and 2) You’ll never be able to please everyone when fundraising.

Previously, I wrote The 3 No-No’s of Fundraising and The 7 Essentials of Fundraisingso I won’t be redundant here about those things, but you should go read them before we proceed, so we have a working foundation.

One major thing to consider before embarking on the exciting and terrifying journey of fundraising is to know yourself.  Are you socially challenged or unaware of yourself and others around you?  In all sincerity, you need to keep your fundraising strategy in a written format and have an editor.  I’m really not trying to be rude, but I’ve seen people do much more harm than good for their organization, because they don’t have the people skills to not come across as pushy or offensive.

When Should I Ask?

So, how do you know when the right time to ask someone for their help is? After you have shared the vision and story of your organization/project and the person seems genuinely interested (there is a difference between someone being interested and someone just being nice), I typically like to ask at first a broad question: “Is this something you feel like you and your family would like to be involved in?” or “I’d love to share with you how you and your family can be involved.”  (NOTE: If the person seems more interested in talking about themselves or another ministry they are involved in, don’t force the subject.  You are there first to serve that person, not use them.)

Sometimes the fish jumps right into your boat and they say, “That sounds exciting, how can I help?”  When that happens, you better to be ready with what you are wanting to ask for.

How do I ask?

There are several ways to make “The Ask.”  The first thing I want to remind you of is to not discount prayer.  Again, I’m coming from a Christian perspective, and I believe that prayer is essential component to our work and organization (and to all of life, for that matter!).  I always ask people to join me in prayer and provide that as an option for involvement.  This is not meant as a cop-out, but rather as a highly valued commodity to have people praying for and with us as we seek to pursue our calling and mission.

Here are some ways you can go about making “The Ask”.  Remember, your primary task is to love the person you are asking, and to serve them well.

  1. The Direct Asker:  For some of you, this way will work very well.  The Direct Ask is when you say something like, “Bob, would you be willing to commit to $100/month for the next year?” or “Debbie, can I put you down for $10,000 for this project.”  As I mentioned before, some people love this approach, and love being asked like this.  However, in the past 12+ years of fundraising, I have found that few people really appreciate this direct approach.
  2. The Questioner: As I mentioned above, I believe that asking good questions really help serve everyone involved in the fundraising process.  The Questioner asks really good questions not only regarding the fundraising need, but showing a genuine interest in the person and understanding their passions.  The more you are able to understand a person, the more you are able to properly connect them to something in your project that they could be passionate about (see Proverbs 20:5).
  3. The Dancer: These folks dance all around the issue of money, but don’t really ask for it.  Since God is sovereign, He certainly can work in spite of this, but ultimately, you are going to tire yourself out, as well as your prospective donor.  Even if you are prone to be The Dancer, you need to at least be aware of when the song ends and figure out a way to either thank the person for the dance or take a bow (aka make the ask).
  4. The Inviter: Some people have a real gift at inviting people into a story.  The Inviter is someone who does a great job telling the story, and bringing the person into the story.  The Inviter is able to naturally transition from “us” to “we” and help the prospective donor to naturally want to be involved.  This takes a certain gift to do, and I’m not sure it is something that can be trained.  However, if you are planting a church or starting a ministry, and people are coming along with you, then you have some of The Inviter traits and you will want to stick with that.
  5. The Writer: Some people are better behind the pen (or keyboard) and people actually respond better to them via this medium.  The Writer is a person that can communicate well through writing and is able to write a solid fundraising letter, ministry updates, etc.  To be honest, I’ve raised a lot of money over the years writing letters and including commitment cards.  I’ll write a post on that later.  One of the potential downfalls of this approach is losing contact with the person.  So, along the way, you still need to make phone calls, or have lunches.  My friend Jonathan had a brilliant idea when he was fundraising.  He sent the letters then called folks to let them know the letter was on the way.  I think that made a huge impact and he was very successful in raising the funds he needed in a short amount of time.

The reality is, there are many ways to ask for funds and a successful fundraiser will tell you that you need to use a combination of the 5 approaches above.  Remember, the ultimate goal in fundraising for your church plant, ministry, or other organization is to serve the prospective donor well.  Give multiple opportunities for them to be involved, and always be gracious when they are not interested.

What questions do you have about this?  Is there something important that I’m missing?  Leave a comment below.

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