Ask With­out Fear: A sim­ple guide to con­nect­ing donors with what mat­ters to them most

Written by
Marc Pitman
June 03, 2011

Book review

Ask Without Fear: A simple guide to connecting donors with what matters to them most by Marc A. Pitman.

Reviewed for SOFII by Joanne Fritz.

I currently have a love for small, easy-to-read, even ‘sassy’ books. And I have just found another one, Ask Without Fear: A Simple Guide to Connecting Donors With What Matters To Them Most, by Marc A. Pitman (2008, Executive Books). Pitman is a fundraising consultant and maestro of

I like that Pitman is applying the coaching paradigm to fundraising. I think he means it in the sports sense, as a baseball coach, for instance. But I like to think of him as a therapy coach as well. I’m pretty sure that we can all use some ‘counselling’ when asking for a big gift, probably one of the things most feared by people, right up there with public speaking and snake handling.

I have no doubt that Pitman can coach the most timid and fearful fundraising staff member or nonprofit board member through their first contacts and on to ultimate success. He will do this through both motivation and instruction in some basic skills.

Pitman’s book is quick and precise. He has developed what he calls his R.E.A.L. process to guide us through the fundraising cycle; R.E.A.L. represents research, engage, ask and love. Follow the process, rinse and repeat.

Pitman’s book is full of small but surprisingly meaningful suggestions, such as using a blue pen for your thank-you notes so they look more as if they are written by hand; thanking people at least seven times before asking them to give again. And looking for the unusual in your research about a prospect, such as a book review he or she has written or that they belong to a particular club.

The meat of the book lies in Pitman’s discussion of the seven fundraising myths. These are not only useful, they are entertaining as he uses stories, humorous anecdotes and great tips to illustrate his points.

Here is a truncated version of Pitman’s fundraising myths (I don’t want to give too much away after all):

  1. The field of dreams fiasco, a version of the field of dreams refrain, ‘If you build it, they will come’. The nonprofit version is, ‘If you send it, they will give’. Chickens that we are, we often fall back on a written solicitation rather than a real, face-to-face ask. Don’t do that.
  2. The Mickey D’s* syndrome, which is when nonprofits indulge in ‘poverty thinking’. Don’t focus so much on stretching your resources that you forget about quality. So when you cultivate donors, do it properly. Take them to a restaurant with real cutlery and a tablecloth for heaven’s sake.
  3. The cheez-it** treatment. You know when you stand in the grocery store and can’t make up your mind what crisp flavour to buy? Well, don’t overwhelm your donors with too many choices. Pitman says to remember P.Y.I.T.S., or put yourself in their shoes.
  4. Mrs McTats Houseful of Cats***: I am allergic to cats but my donor may really love them. Be careful what you say. Watch those phrases that just spring to your lips, but that may be really, really inappropriate.
  5. The spell-check-will-catch-it: this is one that I’m sure we all know well. Learn to proof-read your long-laboured-over fundraising letters and acknowledgments and ask someone else to look as well.
  6. The you’re good-enough-to-go-it-alone blunder: pairing up to make an ask is more effective than going it alone. If you are a member of staff, go with a volunteer.
  7. The highway fallacy: yes, this is about ‘my way or the highway’. Pitman says that in fundraising, the asker sometimes ignores all the clues the donor is giving and just blunders ahead to a quick death. Don’t.

These points are simple but so profound. I love that Pitman simplifies major gift fundraising so that it doesn’t seem so scary. After reading this fine little book, we might all say, ‘Hey, I can do that’.

* Mickey D’s is a slang term for the fast-food chain McDonald’s.

** Cheez-its are American food crackers.

*** A children’s book by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, published in 2001 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, USA.

© Joanne Fritz's book review was first published on SOFII in 2011.

About Joanne Fritz

Joanne Fritz has worked in the nonprofit world for most of her 30-year career beginning with teaching at the secondary, college, and university levels. She has also held senior management positions at two national nonprofits and two universities. Fritz has served on numerous nonprofit boards and was chosen to participate in leadership programs in two cities.

About the author: Marc Pitman

Marc Pitman is the author of Ask Without Fear! (Executive Books, 2008, USA) He is also the founder of, a website dedicated to practical ideas for more effective fundraising.

Related case studies or articles

Recession-proof fundraising: How to fundraise out of bad times

​Turn on any news show and you’ll hear analysts and pundits forecasting economic doom and gloom. Their reports are filled with words and phrases like ‘economic downturn’, ‘soft economy’ and the dreaded ‘recession’.

Read more

Also in Categories