How to Ask for Money

View More Wisdom

an infographic representing growth from 2022 to 2026

Most Plan A clients rely on philanthropic support for some or all of their operating budgets. Successful fundraisers know it’s important to build a diverse “portfolio” of support – with gifts and grants from a wide range of donors and donor types. How to Ask for Money offers a road map for your success.

Make Your Case
A well-crafted Case for Support frames the approach to any prospective donor; it’s a critical component of a formal fundraising proposal to an individual, a foundation, or a corporate prospect. The Case also provides the “raw material” for a conversational pitch. It can serve as a “leave behind” after an in-person solicitation or the follow-up to a Zoom call. The Case can be made in a simple narrative on letterhead, nicely crafted text in an email, a short but compelling video, a well-designed print piece with images, or in a scripted conversation. A good Case for Support includes the following elements:

  • The challenge. What is the problem your nonprofit is working to address, or the need you intend to meet?
  • Your approach. What makes you unique? In a crowded field, how does your nonprofit stand out from others seeking to address the same challenge? Here you should focus less on what your nonprofit does and more on how you do it.
  • Your impact. Outputs are important —such as the number of therapeutic sessions held, people fed, exhibitions produced, or scholarships given—but outcomes are even more so: What positive change results from your approach? What difference do you make to those whose lives you touch?
  • True stories. Illustrate your case with real-life examples that demonstrate positive change tied directly to your nonprofit’s work.
  • The risks. Outline your plan to shift course if you hit a roadblock. Show how you’ll adapt your approach without sacrificing impact.

Identify Prospective Donors
Your next major donor may be close at hand. Here are common ways to identify prospects:

  • Start where you are… Current donors are also your best prospects. Take a closer look at your database to identify individuals who have given consistently, increased giving over time, or given above and beyond on occasion. Conduct a database wealth screening to surface names of people who have the capacity to be generous. Conduct some basic research to learn what other organizations they support and at what levels.
  • …and see who else is there. Philanthropic people often have several causes about which they feel passionate, and they likely give to several organizations addressing a similar cause. Take a look at annual reports and donor lists of peer organizations to identify individuals and foundations that show up on several, and for whom your mission would resonate. Is one of your current donors giving more generously to a similar organization? It might be time to ask for a larger gift.
  • Leverage your inner circle… Once you have a list of prospective donors, share it with board members for review. Who do they know on the list? Who else might be added? What introductions could they make? This kind of list development is best accomplished in one-on-one meetings in which you have your board member’s full attention.
  • …and your extended network. In addition to your board members, top donors and volunteers want your organization to thrive. Set up meetings with particularly well-connected supporters to ask them for introductions and their help in cultivation. Bonus: asking for advice can deepen your supporters’ engagement with your organization.
  • A note on family foundations. Some individuals and families donate to charities through a Donor Advised Fund (“DAF”) or a family foundation. DAFs are hard to research but foundations are easy to determine if a good fit for your organization. Look at their recent IRS 990 filings on GuideStar (Candid) or a similar source to explore their giving history.

Partnering with your Board
No matter their level of personal wealth, a high-performing board should play an active role in generating support for your nonprofit. Here are simple rules for engaging this inner circle

  • Board members are your first responders… Regardless of board size, each member should understand and expect that they will be asked to contribute to the best of their ability. Communicating this responsibility should be part of recruitment and new member onboarding. On a larger board, setting and communicating a minimum gift expectation ensures parity among members.
  • …and your ambassadors. In addition to giving what they’re able, each board member should understand that fundraising is a shared responsibility, even if fulfilled differently. Ways to contribute include: signing year-end appeals (good); making an introduction to a prospective donor (better); and participating in a solicitation (best).
  • Thank you! Next? Who doesn’t like to be thanked for a generous contribution of time and money? Board leaders and nonprofit executives should take time to recognize and celebrate board members for their personal gifts, advice, and fundraising efforts. Positive public accolades for those who have contributed provide a healthy form of pressure amongst their peers. Every thank you sets the stage for your next “ask.”

It’s All About Relationships
Meaningful personal connection generally can lead to greater rewards. Build a relationship with a prospective donor over time in a way that’s meaningful to them before you ask for their support.

  • Take your time. Get to know your prospective donor and – just as important – let them get to know you before you ask for money. Pay attention to their interests and package the information you share in response. Extend a personalized invitation to an event. Forward an article you think they would enjoy. Try to find seven ways to be in touch over the course of a year.
  • Advice first, money second. Your prospective donor has more to offer than just money and is likely to feel more invested in and generous toward your organization after they’ve made a helpful contribution of ideas.
  • Offer an unforgettable experience. Committed philanthropists – and everyday donors – may give to a variety of organizations; they may forget a few from year to year. But they’re unlikely to forget an invitation to a special event or to witness a service at your nonprofit. Cutting a ribbon, reading to children, introducing a program, hosting a table… the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Take the time to get to know your prospect’s interests and extend a personal invitation to participate in something likely to be meaningful to them.
  • Be a connector. Supporting your nonprofit can offer a social outlet for certain donors, whether on a personal or professional level. Broaden your prospects’ circles and, in the process, deepen their relationship to your nonprofit through social events, group outings, or members-only activities. Bonus: Participants will encourage each other’s support by association.

What Drives Donors?
Before you ask for a gift that is personally significant for your prospective donor, make sure you’re in tune with these four criteria:

  • Passion. Key into your prospect’s personal passions and link them to the work of your nonprofit’s mission. Where specifically do their philanthropic interests lie? What would it take to deepen their interest in your work and engage them more fully?
  • Urgency. Give good reason for a prospect to say “yes” now and communicate clearly the consequences of a “no.” If a gift isn’t made now, which programs, projects, or services will suffer? Which of the real-life examples in your Case for Support will be affected? Whose lives will not be changed if you don’t secure support?
  • Confidence. Highlight your programmatic track record, the quality of your staff, the detailed nature of your plans, and the qualifications of your consultants. Donors confident in your ability to deliver on the promise of your Case are likely to be more generous.
  • Capacity. Before you make an ask, do your homework! Donors should have the demonstrated ability to make the gift you’ve requested. Their giving history offers a clue. So do the results of a wealth screening. Over-asking isn’t insulting, but it shows that you haven’t done your homework. Asking for a gift the prospective donor can comfortably make shows that your nonprofit is thoughtful and responsible, instilling donor confidence.

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get
You’ve made the case, developed the relationship, and done your homework. Now ask! It’s best to solicit in twos – perhaps the Executive Director and a board member paired.

  • Be present…literally. When asking for a significant gift, a face-to-face conversation is (almost) always more effective than one by Zoom or phone. It adds weight to the ask, gives you the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the prospect, and positions you to respond to any reservations or objections in real time. Frankly, it’s harder for a prospective donor to say no in person.
  • Be direct… and directive. Donors are more likely to make a bigger gift if they know their contribution will be targeted to a specific program, project, or initiative that meets a demonstrated need, especially if it aligns with their interests and motivations. Unrestricted support can be “directive,” too, if it’s packaged as a need for organizational capacity that enables other, specific initiatives.
  • Be detailed. Ask the prospective donor to consider a specific gift within a set time. You can always negotiate a longer payment period if it makes it easier for the prospect to say yes. The key is not to leave money on the table, or any options unexplored.
  • Don’t just say something. Sit there. After you’ve made the ask, be silent. Don’t back-pedal. Don’t fill the void. Don’t offer alternatives. Let the prospect do the talking.
  • Say thanks. Be effusive in expressing gratitude for a positive response, or even for a commitment to consider your request. Then lay out next steps: Share the pledge form and ask for a signed copy returned by an agreed-upon date; indicate that a formal acknowledgement will follow. If they need to confer with a partner, ask when you can follow up with them.
  • If the door closes, open a window. If it becomes clear that a prospective donor is not ready to contribute at the level you’ve requested, take note of their concerns or objections. Ask what it would take to get to “yes.” It may be a “not now” rather than a “no.”