Dear Kim:

A friend recently told me that you had five rules about getting over anxiety about asking for money. I need them because I have offered to ask a bunch of people, but every time I sit down to get on the phone or even e-mail to set up an appointment, I practically have a panic attack. Can you help?

Sign me: Little Engine that Maybe Could

Dear Little Engine:

Your friend is right, although they are not rules and they are not something I discovered as much as five things I have observed. Here they are, with a suggestion of how to use them at the end.

Kim Klein’s tips on getting over the fear of asking:

1) Most people, when offered the opportunity to give money to your group, will say no. They may say no directly, “No, I can’t help you.” They may say no by never responding to your letters or calls. They may say no by saying, “I’ll think about it” and never getting back to you, or even, sadly, sometimes they may say no by saying yes, and then never paying their pledge. Nonetheless, enough will say yes to make it worth continuing to ask. But you must ask way more people than the number of gifts you need. In fact, even when asking friends who you know give away money and who you know care about the cause you represent, you still need to ask four friends for every one gift. Two of your four friends will give nothing and the third person will give you less than what you asked for.

2) It has to be OK with you for people to say no. In fact, you should think of a “no” as a good thing—as putting you one step closer to a “yes.” When you go for a whole week without getting a “no,” it is because you have not asked enough people. Your job is to ask: to offer other people the opportunity to give to your group. The people you ask must be people who give away money, which is seven out of ten adults. They are going to give the money somewhere and your job is to get on their menu. The person being asked also has a job—their job is to take you up on your offer or to turn you down. What they do will depend on their mood, their financial circumstance, their other commitments, their confidence or lack of in the future—many variables which you can’t do anything about and which are not about you.

3) What you believe in has to be bigger than what you are afraid of. If you don’t like asking for money, or you would rather not do it, or you wish someone else would do it for you, that is normal. That is how most people are. Money is a loaded subject, full of meanings that are way beyond the item itself. You can spend a lot of time analyzing what you don’t like about asking for money and that will be time well spent. But if you don’t have the time, or you have spent the time and you still don’t feel good about asking for money, I suggest you think about what is going to happen if you don’t ask anyone for money. What will happen to your organization? Does it matter if your organization goes out of business? If it matters to you, then put that first, ahead of your anxiety about asking. There is an old fundraising saying, “If you are afraid to ask for money, kick yourself out of the way and let the cause talk.”

4) You will need to ask some people, but you don’t need to ask everyone. Many people never get out of the starting gate because they think they have to ask everyone they know. They then imagine asking their neighbor or their ex-husband or their Aunt Mildred, and how awful that would be. Don’t ask people that you have a hard relationship with or that don’t believe in your cause. Start with someone very easy: yourself. Make our own gift first. Make sure your gift is significant for you—that you feel it and it feels good. Then go to friends and family members who you like and who like you, and who agree with the cause you represent. If you really don’t like to ask people you know, then ask people you don’t know—donors to the organization who you have not met, or donors to another organization similar to yours. But make sure you are asking people who both give away money and who believe in your cause or a cause similar to yours.

5) Put yourself in the donor’s shoes. You may not like asking, but that doesn’t mean the donor doesn’t want to be asked. Most people like to be seen as helpful and generous. They like to be included. Sometimes organizations go out of business and people around the organization will say, “I never knew they were in trouble. Why didn’t they ask for help?” Once a close friend of the Chair of the Board of a failing group told me, “I would help if he would ask, but I get the feeling that he doesn’t want my help. Maybe what I have to give isn’t good enough.” There are way more hurt feelings from not being included and not being asked than there ever will be from being asked.

Saturate Your Mind with these Five Points

Tape these five points above your desk, on your bathroom mirror, write them in your calendar or Palm Pilot. Read them when you wake up and when you go to sleep. Start every meeting by reminding each person of these five points. Within a week, you will be 50% more comfortable about asking for money and in two weeks, another 50% more. The more you ask, also the more comfortable you will get. Also, amazingly, the more you ask, the more money you will get.


-Kim Klein