In everyday life, asking for financial support is something many of us struggle with. When confronting someone with requests so delicate in nature, we ask ourselves questions like: Am I being clear about what I’m asking for? Am I successfully conveying my genuine intentions? Am I asking for too much or too little? What’s the best way to explain what I want and need? How do I balance communicating self-confidence with humble appreciation? What can I do that will strengthen my chances for receiving of what I’m asking?
The truth is, asking for financial support is challenging in any context, and in many cases, the answers to these questions vary greatly. While I may not be able to give you advice on how to ask your friend to cover your car payment next month, or how to ask your boss for an advance on your paycheck, I do feel capable of sharing some useful information on this topic in a fundraising and nonprofit context.
Courtesy of the teachings from CDS President and CEO David G. Phillips, the following are the top three necessities to consider in your approach to soliciting a gift:
1. GET FINANCIALLY SPECIFIC
By financially specific, this means ensuring the two following questions are answered:
“How much money?”
“What exactly is the money for?”
It is essential to directly communicate the size of the gift you need as well as what tangible benefit the gift will enable. Often times, attaching the gift to a specific project, such as commemorating a building in the donor’s name for example, is a relevant and motivating factor to solidify the contribution. If, for example, someone asked you for financial support for their volunteer trip to Africa, wouldn’t you be more willing to donate if in addition to knowing this basic piece of information, the person who was asking you explained that 100% of your donation would go to constructing a much needed safety shelter for women and their children in a dangerous part of Nigeria?
2. CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY
As you’re expressing the exact dollar amount needed, you should also express the exact time the funds are needed. Set a date and time up front, and stick to it. This creates a sense of urgency that is a vital element in effective fundraising. If you don’t establish deadlines, the waiting game can stretch out and obscure your planned timeline, goals, and fundraising success. Let’s say you talk to a potential donor who says they are going on vacation soon and can talk to you about it when they return from their trip. You should ask them to set up a date and time shortly after their anticipated return. If you wait to set up the follow-up meeting until after they return, there’s a possibility that once they’re back from vacation, they will be so bogged down with make-up work that there’s no time to talk. Soon enough, your meeting that got pushed back weeks is now pushed back months, and the state of your fundraising success is riding on how that meeting turns out; if it ever happens at all. For this reason, setting specific deadlines is absolutely crucial. And it isn’t just setting the deadlines that matters, it’s also implementing them. If potential donors call to postpone an appointment, don’t let them hang up without confirming a rescheduled date and time.
3. ENSURE YOUR POTENTIAL DONORS FEEL HEARD
Establishing and building relationships is definitely one of the more important factors impacting your success with gift solicitation. The best way to strengthen a relationship is to be present and listen carefully and actively. Does your potential donor want to see a budget? What about a timeline? Do what they ask in a timely manner. Nurture the relationship with your potential donor, listen to them, and adjust accordingly. This is especially important when they are undecided about a donation. Instead of pushing them, show that you genuinely value and care for them. If a potential donor shows hesitance, usually the best thing to do is ask that they consider it, and follow up with a scheduled meeting in the near future to check back in with them. There are so many small but powerful gestures, such as writing and sending handwritten notes, that won't be of significant cost to you, and will make the potential donor feel valued. More often than not, when you show people that you're listening and looking out for them, they'll feel much more open to your ideas and requests.
There are many important steps and factors to consider when reaching out to someone for financial support, and they all vary by situation. However, CDS has gotten front row seats to the nonprofit fundraising show for the past two decades. We've discovered that the most important things to consider when soliciting a gift can be broken down into three main parts: getting financially specific, creating a sense of urgency, and making sure your potential donors feel valued and heard. Call us if you need more intensive help with your major gift fundraising, strategic planning, or in making preparations for a capital campaign.