The Nonprofit Ask—Becoming a Natural Born Asker

Heidi Hancock, CFRE, is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub and the founder of Mosaic. She has more than 18 years of experience in nonprofit management and institutional advancement. Heidi is hosting The Nonprofit Treasure Map Workshop, which includes three interactive sessions designed to help you increase your donations. Sign up today!

Do you choke up at the thought of asking someone for money? Even though you get this queasy feeling when it’s time to ask, you know it’s something you’ve got to do if your cause is going to get the money it needs to deliver its work. You envy the people who actually seem to glide through their fundraising with the greatest of ease, never breaking a sweat or popping an Alka Seltzer when it comes to asking for money. It’s just easy for them. They must be a natural born asker. Mastering the art of the nonprofit ask isn’t as hard as you think.

Very few people are innately talented fundraisers. So while it may look easy for someone else, asking for money is actually easy to learn.

Here’s a little secret: YOU are already a Natural Born Asker.

It’s true! And to help you get in touch with your asking greatness, here are two things that you can do right now to radically enhance your asking prowess.

1) Have a Conversation

When it’s time to ask for money you want to be sure your prospect has all the information and knows all about your cause so they will see the value of your upcoming proposition. If you can just get all that great information out there you’ll be able to face the do-or-die instant where you must pop the big question. It’s easy to get completely wrapped up in the “big moment.” That is the whole point of fundraising, right, to ask?

The Big Moment in Perspective

Think about a friend who just loves to talk. Now, you love your friend dearly, but for some reason they seem compelled to tell you EVERYTHING whether it’s relevant to you or not. When they have something important on their mind they will describe in excruciating detail what they think and how they came to be here right now with you telling this story about what happened to them, reporting on each decision, each movement, each time something influenced them and what actions they took as a result.

Just when your eyes are about to roll back in your head and you’re looking for a convenient escape, they take a breath and ask the first and only question of the encounter. “Isn’t this so? Do you think this is right? Can you believe it?” You nod or shake your head, make some placating noises and hightail it out the backdoor. They aren’t really asking for your input, they’re asking for agreement.

Is your asking a one-sided talk?

Go with the Flow

A conversation has a flow—it’s a give and take where each of the participants’ contributions has value. Think about your friend when they’ve had a good conversation with you. Maybe it started with your friend sharing a brief exposition about something that happened. They might have described their reaction or an observation. You respond by asking a question, sharing your opinion, relating a similar experience or offering advice. Your friend asks a question. The sequence repeats and you come to a resolution. What you say affects your friend and makes them think. At the same time what they are talking about makes you think. You both get something out of the conversation because you both put something in.

You’re having conversations every day. The next time it’s time to ask, approach it like you would an interactive conversation.

2) Practice The Nonprofit Ask

Practice can make perfect, but I’m not talking about a role-playing exercise or standing in front of the mirror with your asking script. Nope, this kind of practice is something you are already doing every day that, with a little tweak, will make your fundraising asks feel smooth and easy.

Using the Conversational Approach, you’re going to ask for something other than money. You’re going to ask your prospect to share something they value. It goes something like this:

You: Hey [Fabulous Prospect Name]! I heard about this cool thing you did. I really admire your get up and go. Why did you decide to do that cool thing?

Them: Thanks! I just… [Answer to your question]

You: That gets me thinking… I’m working with this great cause and they’re doing this activity that, from what you’ve shared with me, I think is right up your alley. Would you:

  • share your experience and advice with leadership?
  • volunteer for this activity?
  • come by for our open house?
  • have me introduce you to these special people from our cause who you will really like?
  • advocate for this program?
  • fill me in on who you think I should talk to about this?
  • make a few recommendations for how we should proceed based on what you know works well?

You get the idea, right? Whenever you have a favor to ask, a request for someone to do something, even if it’s just giving you some additional information, you’re using the same techniques that you use when asking for money. The same technique you will use in your Big Moment.

You can even practice asking as a part of your solicitation. Asking is actually a great way to put everyone at ease. Ask your prospect for something that they can easily provide right in your conversation. It’s a win-win! They feel good because they helped you with your request. You feel good because you asked for something and got the green light! Work a couple of warm-up questions into your solicitation conversation and when it comes to your Big Moment, you’ll be cool as a cucumber and ready for a terrific response.

Start watching your daily interactions. Pay attention when you are engaged in a good interactive give-and-take conversation. Check out how you might sometimes direct the conversation and sometimes turn over the direction to the other person. Watch what happens when you ask for something other than money. Believe it or not, I’ll bet you’re already using these two techniques and didn’t even know it. With a little polish, you will master the art of the nonprofit ask and discover you really are a Natural Born Asker.

The Nonprofit Ask—Becoming a Natural Born Asker

Heidi Hancock

February 11, 2015

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