Ask-pho­bia: how to over­come ask aversion

Written by
Rory Green
January 21, 2016

What is your biggest fear?

I’ve often heard that more people are afraid of public speaking than of death. In the nonprofit world, I think more fundraisers are afraid of asking for money than the death of their organisation.

I work in major gifts. I ask people of means to invest large amounts of money in the cause I represent. I love it. But I find it shocking how often fundraisers say to me: ‘I could never do what you do.’ Or, ‘How can you ask someone to give you all that money?’ I’ve heard similar objections to direct mail asks, door-to-door programmes and asking donors to consider leaving a legacy.

Fundraisers everywhere are ask-averse, ask-phobic and, worse yet, anti-ask.

If the thought of asking someone for money, in person, over the phone, or in a letter, makes you break out in a sweat I hope these five simple tips help you out. Remember that asking for a donation isn’t awful and it t can be really, really fun.

1. Get to know your beneficiaries
Spend some time with your programme delivery areas. Get to know the people making your good work possible. See and meet the people who benefit from the money you raise. It is really easy to lose that behind a fast-approaching fiscal year end and high fundraising targets. Fundraising is so much more than a number on a spreadsheet. Spending time with the people and places that benefit from your mission delivery will remind you that you aren’t asking for money for yourself, but for the beneficiaries and that really and truly deserves external support.

2. Watch someone else do it
Accompany a seasoned major gifts fundraiser on meetings. Get to know the way she, or he, approaches making an ask. Seeing it done in person really helped me when I was starting out. Why? Because we are often most afraid of the unknown. Neuroscience tells us that our brains have to work extra hard when there is missing information. Getting a better understanding of how real asks work makes thinking about asking less scary. If accompanying someone who will be asking for a donation isn’t an option, read some direct mail, proposals, or newsletters with an then you’ll see how beautiful and emotional asking can be and how it’s not at all like begging.

3. Role playing
Recently I saw Guy Mallabone (president and CEO Global Philanthropic Canada) present on ‘exercising your ask muscle’. He had us play making an ask to another fundraiser acting as the potential donor. After the play was over, he asked us how we felt being asked. The answers were surprising. People felt special, valued, important, understood. It was eye opening. Being asked to give feels good. I want donors to feel special, valued and important. Putting yourself in the shoes of a donor helps you realise asking and being asked is a joyful experience.

4. Say thank you
Call donors to say nothing but thank you. If they feel like talking, ask them why they give. I have met many happy donors who are grateful for the chance to get involved and are proud of what they have accomplished with their giving. I have a note above my desk from a donor that I show to every ask-averse person I meet. It says: ‘thank you for giving me the opportunity to give back’. That’s right – the donor thanked me. It is a lovely reminder that when you ask the right person, at the right time, for the right amount of money, for the right project they are happy to give. It makes the thought of fundraising a lot less scary.

5. Give

Take $5 out of your wallet. Go find someone, a friend, a co-worker, a stranger, and spend that money on them. Do something nice and unexpected – like buying them a coffee or chocolate. You will quickly learn what Michael Norton’s (Harvard Business School) research from around the world has proved: money can buy happiness, when you spend it helping other people. There is a tremendous amount of research on this – helping others help us. It is so important to remember when fundraising: giving to others makes you happy. You are a bringer of happiness and joy when you present a potential donor with opportunities to help others.

We owe it to our causes, and our donors to get over our fear of asking. We need to ban ask-phobia from our organisations and create nonprofits where we love to ask.

I read once that when Steve Jobs was recruiting Pepsi executive John Sculley to run Apple – he asked him ‘do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world? Well fundraisers, we don’t have to make our living asking kids to buy sugar water. We get to ask people to change the world. So get out there and ask.

Are you ask-phobic? What are the things that scare you about asking for money? Or, how did you overcome your fear of asking? I want to hear from you.

© 101fundraising 2014

About the author: Rory Green

Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual bike-a-thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to leukaemia. Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the associate director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society. Her passion is donors. How to listen to them. How to talk to them. How to help them feel better about themselves through philanthropy than they ever thought possible. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.

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