How to Ask for Money

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All nonprofits – to varying degrees – are dependent on philanthropic support for a portion of their operating budget. High performing nonprofits solicit contributions effectively from a wide range of prospects. “How to Ask for Money,” offers road map to improve your success.

Step 1: Make Your Case

A well-worded Case Statement is a critical component of any fundraising proposal, and it can also be used as a “leave behind” after an in-person solicitation. Whatever form it takes, whether it’s a short video with a solid script and compelling audio and visuals or a well-designed print piece, your case statement should include 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? In this section of your case, the focus should be less about what your nonprofit does and more about how you do it.
  • Your impact. Outputs—like the number of people served, exhibitions produced, or scholarships given—are important, but outcomes even more so: What positive changes can be attributed to your approach? What difference do you make to those whose lives you touch?
  • True stories. Illustrate your case with real-life examples that demonstrate happy endings tied directly to your nonprofit’s work.The risks. Potential donors understand that many factors affect proposed projects, especially in the nonprofit world. If your case is for a specific project or initiative, outline your plan to shift course or recalibrate if it hits a roadblock. If your case is for unrestricted or overall operating support, include examples that demonstrate your organization’s ability to adapt to large-scale shifts without sacrificing your underlying approach or impact.
Step 2: Partnering with your Board

  • Board members are your first responders… Regardless of the size of your board, each member should understand and expect that they will be asked to contribute to the best of their ability. Communicating this clearly is an important part of recruitment and new member onboarding and will lay the groundwork for a future ask. On a larger board, setting and communicating a minimum gift level may be desirable as a way to ensure a sense of parity among members.
  • …and your ambassadors. In addition to contributing 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 meeting (best).
  • Thank you! Next? Board members are human beings, and what human being doesn’t appreciate a sincere and thoughtful acknowledgment of their generous contribution, financial or otherwise? Respectful and successful board leaders and nonprofit executives take time to recognize and celebrate board members for their personal gifts and fundraising efforts. Bonus: public positive reinforcement provides a healthy form of pressure among their peers. 
Step 3: Relationship Building

  • Take your time. Get to know your prospective donor and–just as important–let them get to know you before you bring up money. Pay attention to their interests and, in response, send them customized information about specific programs, or extend a personalized invitation to an event. A good rule of thumb: seven varied touches each 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 meaningful contribution of ideas. Asking for advice is a great way to start building relationships that will play a part in sustaining your nonprofit’s future.
  • Offer an unforgettable experience. Many major donors give to a variety of organizations, and they may even lose track of their financial contributions. But they’re unlikely to forget being invited to participate directly in an event or program at your organization. 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 donor’s interests (see above!) and extend a personal invitation to participate in a way that will be meaningful to them.Be a connector. In addition to being a great cause, supporting your nonprofit organization can also be a social outlet for many donors, whether it’s on a personal or professional networking level. Broaden your donors’ circles and, in the process, deepen their relationship to your organization by connecting them to each other through social events, outings, or opt-in members-only communications like newsletters or social media groups. Bonus: Donor groups provide positive reinforcement and opportunities for peer recognition (see alsoHow to Ask for Money Step 2: Partner with your Board).
Step 4: Know a Donor’s Motivation

  • Take time to assess whether or not a potential donor feels and shares your passion for your nonprofit and its mission. If not, what would it take to engage them more fully? Perhaps some of the suggestions we outlined in Step 3: Relationship Building would be helpful in deepening their interest. If they’re simply not that passionate right now, consider ways to keep them in the organization’s network and let the relationship continue to grow over time.
  • Make sure you communicate clearly the consequences of a “no.” If a gift isn’t made now, which programs, projects, buildings, or scholarships will suffer? Which of the real-life examples that you presented previouslywill be affected? Whose lives will not be changed as a result of not securing this gift?
  • Building on the groundwork you laid in earlier conversations, highlight your programmatic track record, the quality of your staff, the detailed nature of your plans, and the qualifications of your consultants. Remember: confident donors are generous donors.
  • Before making an ask, do your homework! Donors must 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 taken the adequate time to get to know your donor. Asking for a gift the prospective donor can comfortably make also shows that your team is thoughtful and responsible, which instills donor confidence.
Step 5: If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

  • Be present. Literally. When asking for a major gift, a face-to-face conversation is (almost) always a must. Not only does it demonstrate personal attention and commitment on your part, it also gives you the opportunity to strengthen your relationship and to respond to any reservations or objections. And, 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. Note: General operating support can be “directive” 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 period. You can always negotiate a longer payment period if it will make it easier to arrive at the amount you’re requesting. 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-peddle. Don’t prevaricate. Don’t offer alternatives. Let the prospective donor do the talking.
  • If the door closes, open a window. If, after you’ve given the donor time to respond, it becomes clear that they’re not ready to contribute at the level you’ve requested, take note of what their concerns or obstacles are and what’s driving their decision and open a discussion about what it would take to get there. It may be a question of “not now” rather than an absolute “no.”
How to Ask for Money Bonus Track: Identifying Future Donors

  • Start where you are… It turns out, your current donors are also your best prospects for future donations. Take a closer look at your database to identify individuals who have given consistently, have increased gifts over time, or have given above and beyond your minimum threshold. Follow that up with a wealth screening as well as online research to see what other organizations they support and at what levels.
  • …and see who else is there. Donors often have a cause or two for which they feel passionate, and they’re likely to give to multiple organizations addressing similar needs. Take a look at the annual reports and donor lists of your peer organizations to identify individuals or family foundations who show up on several lists, and for whom your mission would resonate. Is one of your current donors giving at a higher level to a similar organization? It might be time to cultivate them for a larger gift.
  • Leverage your inner circle… Once you have a list of prospective donors, share it with your board members for review. Do they know anyone on the list? Who else would they add or what introductions they could make. This type of brainstorming is often best accomplished in one-on-one meetings in which you have board members’ full attention.
  • …and your extended network. In addition to your board members, your top donors and sponsors want your organization to thrive. Set up meetings with your particularly well-connected supporters to ask them for introductions to others you can begin to cultivate. Bonus: asking for their ideas will also deepen your supporters’ engagement with your organization.
  • A note on family foundations. Some philanthropists donate to charities through a family foundation. If you identify a foundation you think may be a good fit with your organization, review their recent 990s on GuideStar (Candid) to see their donation history.