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Stop Asking for Money! Do This Instead!

A few weeks ago, my nephew thought it would be funny to pick up a garter snake and chase me around the yard threatening to throw it at me. Like a real jerk.

This kid was a quick little devil and got close enough to me with that slithery spawn of Satan to elicit a scream from deep within my gut that would make early 90’s peak Axel Rose proud.

Because snakes are terrifying.

And gross.

At a client meeting recently, my simple suggestion of the team asking donors for an increase in gifts, had those in the room develop a similar adverse reaction - though done silently and stoically and not flamboyantly theatrical like my snake-thrown-at-me response.

Because fundraising can be terrifying.

Sure, it’s not as scary as a legless creature whose sole purpose is to haunt my dreams…and flowerbeds, but for the amateur development team or accidental fundraiser, the act of soliciting for sponsorships, large gifts or even event tickets to an event can be make even the bravest human shake in their boots.

My best guess, is that most of us in fundraising really don’t want to be put in a position where the potential answer is “no” or worse, being yelled at for the audacity of asking another person for support of a mission you care deeply about, and they find offensive.

(Spoiler alert: No one will ever punch you in the face for asking for a gift.)

But what if I told you that you really don’t have to ASK for money…to raise money?

The real power in fundraising is alignment.

Once you’re aligned with a potential donor, all the pieces fall into place, and it’s a matter of helping shepherd them towards an amount they feel comfortable and excited about.

And in order to get to a place where a donor asks “How can I help?” there are a few steps that the real work has to be focused.

What are those three steps? Glad you asked!

1. Paint the Picture

You are storytellers.

The best storytellers.

No matter what background you have and no matter where you worked before this nonprofit job, you’ve developed the ability to tell a story on what you do, why it matters and what is needed to make your nonprofit better.

Your first step into this non-solicitation-but-actually-it’s-a-solicitation plan is to paint a beautiful picture of what your organization plans on doing to solve whatever social ill or woe that your mission dictates. What’s the problem your programs or services fix? What happens if your nonprofit doesn’t get funding or has to contract rather than expand?

Think of what your story of need is, as if you are sitting next to the person and casting a vision together of “what could be” if this big hairy audacious goal you’re unveiling was accomplished. Ask questions that lead to the obvious conclusion that your solution and positive impact is THE way forward. Set up that the donor as the superhero coming to the rescue – along with countless others who headed the call to make the world a better place right here in your community.

Practice this story. Practice this vision-casting. Write it down and record yourself talking about it passionately and enthusiastically.

Tell that story in a way that showcases the best possible outcome…if your goals are hit.

2. State the Goal

Now that you’ve seduced (in the most professional kind of way) your potential donor or supporter on the story of impact that will make the community more awesome, it’s time to set the table for what the price to make this impact a reality will be.


Simply say what the total amount of the project will be.

No need to break it down into the small pieces like “this door hinge on the building will cost $2.37 and if we have 88 of them, the total will come to $208.56 – but that is before taxes – so we’re looking at a cost of roughly $231 – so if you can also think about adding on a few windows or….”


Oh, sorry. I fell asleep listening to you chat about the details of a thing that isn’t at all interesting or audacious-worthy.

Big goal. Say it out loud. Let is marinate in the air.

Stating what the total goal is allows you to position your “ask” as a gift of significant size…not a tiny, compartmentalized donation that nickels and dimes your way to closing the campaign.

If your total goal is $20,000? Say it. If your stretch goal – the type of goal you would WISH to have in order to cover unexpected tweaks in the game plan – is $30,00? Say that.

The donor immediately starts doing math in their heads, as they formulate what they can do to help. They are running financial scenarios and ways they can help fund this project as a whole, not in a bite sized piece.

Now that you’ve positioned the total. Time for the last step.

3. Invite to Be a Part of the Solution

Now typically here is where you go in for the fundraising kill. Asking for an amount you have diligently researched regarding this potential donor by creeping in on their public stock holdings or Zillow home price “Zestimate” to determine how much you should ask for, is a classic big-shop move.

And sure, if you’re working at a giant University system or healthcare provider who has unlimited investigative / stalker-esque resources to find all their historical family financial data, you could totally hone in on an amount that they are probably willing to give.

But you’re a smaller nonprofit. You don’t have that fancy tech or unlimited funds to hire unlimited development individuals to buy unlimited steak dinners to wine and dine alumni or folks who received a new kidney in the building you’re trying to build.

So what do you do?


Not ask. Invite.

“Would this be a project and is this a goal you’d be interested in supporting?”

That’s your pitch.

And their answer will determine your next step, next conversation, and next meeting.

If they say “Yes, that’s something I can get behind.” Or “Yes, I’d be interested.” then you are just negotiating a total. Follow up questions can be assisted with a list of levels to help facilitate that conversation or by simply asking “At what level would you be interested in supporting this project at?”

If they say “No” that’s ok too. I’d consider that a “no, not right now” kind of answer. They might have a different way of wanting to help or a list of folks that might be a better fit for this particular ask.

And frankly that would be a win too.

The point is, you can position your organization to be in front of high capacity individuals, and make an ask…without really making an ask.

Inviting a donor to help you reach a goal, is a great way to use your mental gymnastics skills in order to give you the confidence to sit down, tell a story, and give your supporters the opportunity to make a difference to the community you serve.

Interested in learning more about making the ask? Want to hone your skills with other nonprofit organizations and leaders in your fundraising community?

Well, you should find a way to one of our 6 Midwest Tour Stops of our Do Gooders Conference dang it!

Seriously – we’re going to talk through this VERY topic, help you create your ask, and give you the confidence (and the playbook!) to make your end of year 2022 – and your 2023 fundraising goals achievable! GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!!!

Keep chugging along gang! And we’ve got your back when you need an extra little nudge!




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