The Wrong Ask

I don’t know about you, but it is getting so that I had to answer my home phone.  If it’s not an automated voice telling me that President Obama is doing something, it’s another automated voice telling me something about my mortgage or credit card, but nothing that really relates to me.  Unless, of course, it is someone asking me to donate to some cause. I am not adverse to the idea of donating—or even to the idea of someone calling to ask for my support, but I do want that someone to ask me appropriately.

The other night my phone rang at 7:45 pm.  I really shouldn’t have answered, but I did.

“Hi Janet,” the caller said.  “This is…” well, let’s call him Peter. Now, Peter is someone I know, but not well.  I was, frankly, a bit surprised that he had called.  So I waited for the other shoe to drop.

It took a few minutes, but finally he got to the reason he was calling—he serves on the Board of some organization that I have never heard of.  And after talking with Peter, I cannot tell you what the organization does.  I certainly don’t feel any connection, and thus, when he asked me for a donation without explaining what that donation would do, I felt justified in saying no.

Well, actually what I said was he should “send me some information.”  But that, we all know, is code for no.

What I really wanted to say was, “Why are you calling me?  Why are you asking me to support this group? Who are they and why do I care?”

And that is the point.

Asking someone you know to support an organization because you know that person is absolutely the wrong ask.  Giving them an opportunity to learn about the organization—to become involved and care about the organization is something completely different.  It this difference that will ultimately get that person to become a supporter.

Fundraising, as we all know, is very much about relationships.  And yes, people do give to people.  But the relationship needs to be as much with the organization as it is with individuals. The people that people give to are those whom they believe are making difference.

The wrong ask, alas, doesn’t have to be from one individual to another.  I got an e-blast recently from an organization about a “fabulous event” and telling me all the fun things that would be going on and all the prizes I could win.  At the very end of the email, which required that I scroll for quite some time, I learned that by participating in this event, I would be helping to support the organization. But how?  Was there a cost?  It wasn’t mentioned.  And if a cost, how much of that went to the organization and how much to the aforementioned fun?  No clue.  Since nothing about the event floated my boat, there didn’t seem to do anything with the e-blast but put it in trash.  Probably not the action hoped for.

The wrong ask doesn’t consider what the prospect really needs or cares about.  The wrong ask simply assumes that because the organization needs, those needs should be met.  The right ask, on the other hand, talks with the prospect and shows how by becoming a partner your support changes a world, solves a problem, helps a kid.  Whatever the mission of the organization, the right ask connects you to it.  And that makes you willing to interrupt your dinner, pull out your credit card, write a check or even attend a “fabulous event.”

Janet Levine consults with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  She also teaches classes in grantwriting and fundraising.  Learn more at and follow Janet Levine Consulting on Facebook.