Ask­ing your donors the right way – six tips to build rela­tion­ships and giving

Fundrais­ers, we all know it can be hard to make the ask. Whether you need to speak to your donor in per­son or on paper, it’s not easy to ask for the dona­tions that your organ­i­sa­tion and your ben­e­fi­cia­ries need. In this arti­cle, copy­writer and con­sul­tant George Crankovic shares six use­ful tips to help you make that all-impor­tant request.

Written by
George Crankovic
Added
July 27, 2023

Most of us tend to feel a little tentative when it comes to asking for money, whatever the situation. It makes us uncomfortable. And this sense of hesitation can spill over into fundraising. 

That’s why in a direct mail appeal, an email appeal, or even in face-to-face fundraising, ‘the ask’ is often where many otherwise effective fundraising efforts will stumble and fall short. Luckily, there’s help. Because approaching the ask in the right way makes the whole thing a lot less unsettling for you and a lot more empowering for your donors – both of which are important for creating the donor relationships you want. 

Here are six tips to keep in mind:

1. Get to the turn quickly.

There’s a point in every sales message – and of course in every direct mail or email fundraising appeal – called the turn. This is where the appeal turns the corner from the creative opening to the ask. It’s critical.

If your appeal opens with a lot of meandering, extraneous, or irrelevant blab before you get to the turn, you’re going to lose your donors. On the other hand, if you quickly and succinctly get to the turn, you’re going to get your ask in front of your donors while their interest is at its peak. That’s what you want. That’s how to present your ask in the best light. So, look over the opening paragraphs of your appeal. If there’s a lot of rambling, just delete it. Be direct and get to the point fast. Your donors will appreciate it.

2. Keep it simple.

Pare down your ask until it’s an easy-to-understand statement, ideally something that simply and directly communicates ‘Your gift of $X will accomplish Y.’ Don’t complicate things with details about your nonprofit’s 25th anniversary, your organisation’s history, your dedicated staff, your programmes, and so on. Donors want to know the problem that needs to be solved, and they want to know what their gift will do to solve it. So tell them, without the embellishment. 

3. Make it concrete.

You see a lot of abstract concepts in fundraising appeals like ‘stand with us,’ ‘make a difference,’ and ‘send hope.’ What do those vague notions mean? Not much, really. They’re abstractions, concepts that are up in the clouds, not definite thoughts and things down here on earth. Bottom line, vagueness isn’t motivating. It distracts and creates doubts in your donor’s mind. So, be specific. Instead of ‘stand with us against homelessness,’ say, ‘Your gift of $5 provides a hot meal, a clean bed, and a night of safe shelter.’ That’s going to seem a lot more real and a lot more useful to your donors. It builds donor relationships too, because donors will see your nonprofit as the one that’s doing real things to solve real problems.

4. Be direct.

When it’s time to make the ask, don’t beat around the bush in the mistaken notion that you’re somehow softening the fact that you’re asking for money. Come right out and ask, directly and unapologetically. Say ‘Please give your gift of $25, $35, $45, or any amount you choose to save these magnificent elephants from being slaughtered by poachers.’

Truth is, donors want to know what you need and what you expect. Then they’ll decide about donating. Far from rejecting your directness, they’ll appreciate it, because by tying their gift to the outcome, you’re reinforcing their sense of autonomy and agency in deciding to do good.

5. Say it again.

In almost any communication to an audience, you have to repeat your message for effectiveness. In commercial marketing, for example, there’s the rule of seven, which says that a prospect has to see your ad at least seven times before he or she begins to get the message. This isn’t to be taken literally, of course. It doesn’t mean that every person responds to every seventh communication. But it does mean that repetition enhances response. That’s why, in direct response fundraising, repetition is a good thing. The reality is that most donors won’t read your appeal from beginning to end. They’ll just skim it. So it’s important to repeat your ask several times in your appeal to make sure it gets noticed and your donor gets your message. 

6. Aim for the heart.

In most cases, you want to avoid statistics and logical arguments in your ask. Instead of something dry and factual like ‘Help reduce the rate of childhood bacterial infection in third-world countries,’ go for the emotion: ‘Innocent babies like Amina in Ethiopia are dying from deadly infections like tick-bite fever, but your gift of $25 sends 15 antibiotics to save these precious lives.’ 

With an approach like this, though, some inside the organisation may object that it’s too emotional, too over the top. But the fact is, an ask that’s more emotional is more real and more urgent for your donors in a way that a bland, logical ask could never be. Your donors want to feel something about the work they’re funding, and an emotional ask draws donors closer to your cause, essential for building strong donor relationships. 

When you think about it, these six tips all centre around one overarching concept: Ask confidently. Here’s why. Nonprofits that use wishy-washy asks in their fundraising will raise less money. It’s a simple fact, proven in testing. 

In addition, with a simple, direct ask, far from being pushy, you’re actually serving your donors because you’re helping them understand quickly and easily what you need and what their gift will do. That’s important in building donor relationships. And finally, your donors want to know about and support the good work your nonprofit is doing. Give them that opportunity with a simple, direct ask in your fundraising. They’ll reward you by giving more because they feel a bond with your organisation, which means you will be able to do more to make our world better. 

IMAGES: © All images from Canva

About the author: George Crankovic

George Crankovic (he/him) is an agency-trained, award-winning, freelance fundraising copywriter and consultant with years of on-the-ground experience. George specialises in crafting direct mail appeals, online appeals, and other communications that move donors to give. He serves major nonprofits in the USA like like Sutter Health, Presbyterian Night Shelter, Portland Rescue Mission, Meals on Wheels, Project HOPE, Christian Chronicle, Lutheran World Relief, American Leprosy Mission, and many others. His projects range from specialised appeals for mid-level and high-dollar donors, to integrated, multichannel campaigns, to appeals for acquisition, reactivation, and cultivation. To find out more, visit www.marketing-fundraising.com.

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