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Downes Murray International News

The Art of Asking

If you want to raise money, sooner
or later you’ll have to learn to ask individuals – because that’s where the money comes from.

In the United States, gifts from living individuals account for more than three-quarters of all the money donated to nonprofit organisations.

Bequests and other planned gifts push the total to more than four of every five dollars raised. In Canada and, increasingly, other countries too, a similar picture is emerging. It’s important, then, that we fundraisers
keep uppermost in our minds the principal do’s and don’ts of raising money
from individuals – and how those guidelines differ from one fundraising method to another.

The list below is only the beginning, of course. Each of these aspects of fundraising demands experience, insight, and a human touch – and a much deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the craft than these terse guidelines suggest. But, given all that, you can’t go far wrong if you keep these tips in mind.

Asking in the mail
To raise money by mail, it’s important to:
  • Use emotion in your appeals
  • Ask for specific amounts
  • Focus on specific needs
  • Offer credit card options (and debit order options, too, in countries where that’s viable)
  • Ask at least six times a year
  • Ask for interest in bequests

Asking on the telephone
Successful telefundraising requires a professional approach that involves either hiring a specialised telemarketing firm or using professionals to train and supervise paid or highly committed volunteer callers. It also requires that you:
  • Ask first in a pre-call letter
  • Ask for a pledge over three to five years
  • Ask with trained callers
  • Ask for a decision and give options
  • Follow up the Ask promptly

Asking for major gifts
  • Ask face-to-face
  • Prepare your Ask well
  • Ask with the right team
  • Ask for the right amount
  • Know when to shut up
  • Ask for a decision date
  • Set up the next appointment

Asking for time and influence
  • Ask for a manageable time commitment
  • Ask for ‘moments in time’
  • Ask for recommendations
  • Ask for ‘door opening’
  • Ask for executive expertise
  • Ask for lead gifts

Asking for bequests
  • Ask for age
  • Ask for confirmation
  • Ask for interest in estate planning
  • Ask for membership in a society
  • Ask for recommendations of friends

Asking corporations, foundations and trusts When seeking institutional support, keep in mind that there are potentially four different types of assistance you can secure:
  • Asking for money
  • Asking for a partnership
  • Asking for gifts-in-kind
  • Asking for volunteer time

Asking for corporate gifts
  • Ask for their proposal requirements
  • Ask for what interests them
  • Ask who else they support
  • Ask them to visit
  • Ask what recognition they want

Asking for partnerships
  • Ask what interests the potential partner
  • Ask for marketing policies
  • Ask about their customers and prospects
  • Ask where there is a match of your needs and theirs

Asking for gifts in kind
  • List everything you spend big bucks on
  • List all your major suppliers
  • List other suppliers of similar goods
  • Prepare your case for support
  • Prepare benefits and recognition options
  • Telephone for appointments
  • Go visit!

Asking for volunteer time
  • Ask for a ‘champion’
  • Ask for professional expertise
  • Ask for a loan of staff
  • Ask for board membership

With Acknowledgement to Successful Direct Mail, Telephone & Online Fundraising, November 2002.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 71, March 2006.

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