Too Timid to Talk, Let Alone Ask

Dear Kim,

My board members and I are timid about asking for money in person. We are so afraid we will do something wrong that we don’t do anything at all. Can you give us a quick list of Dos and Don’ts? Even about things like what to wear, how to know if the person is really saying no, should everyone go in pairs—don’t leave anything out.
—All set, except for the details

Dear Details,

I can’t give you a quick list without leaving something out, but I will give you a quick list and then refer you to the Grassroots Fundraising Journal reprint called “Getting Major Gifts.” It is a thorough compilation of articles that detail almost everything you need to know to raise lots of money from personal solicitation. You can order it from our website at in the Article Collections, or call us to get it. (Ask about our great discounts for bulk orders.)

As for the quick list, you actually named the Number One item on it, which is, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Moving on from there:

– Make your own gift first. If you really make a thoughtful gift, you will have a lot more insight into what the questions and concerns of the prospect are because you will have had to ponder them yourself.

– Be prepared. How are you going to describe your organization? Have one short sentence that answers the question, Why do we exist? That sentence should be passionate and easy to understand and hearing it should make a listener say, “Wow. That’s cool, but what exactly do you do?” Know what you do, have examples, stories, know your budget and above all, know what you are asking for.

– Be specific. Don’t ask for a “large gift” and don’t say, “Whatever you can give will help.” Clearly that’s true, but the prospect wants guidance. Say, “Our goal is $50,000 and we are hoping you can help with $1,000,” or “We are looking for three gifts at $5,000. Could you be one of them?” or “I have given $500 myself and am asking several friends to join me. Could you do that?”

– Be yourself. Wear something that projects that you would know what to do with the money if you got it, but don’t dress so differently from how you normally dress that you feel uncomfortable. Take your cue from the prospect-if he or she is a very formal person, dress more formally than if your prospect is an old hippie. But if you are a very formal person, you will also dress differently than if you are an old hippie, and that’s OK.

– Remember that the prospect is going to give away some money. Their question is not, “Should I give this money or keep it?” It is, “Which organization should I give it to?” Your job is to get on their menu, and the prospect’s job is ultimately to choose from a range of groups and issues.

How to avoid problems:

– Don’t be late, don’t lie, don’t mumble, don’t be obsequious, don’t be falsely flattering.

There is an old saying in fundraising: “If you are afraid to ask for money, kick yourself out of the way and let the cause talk.” In the end, what you believe in has to be more important than what you are afraid of.