Don't Forget to Ask

Many years ago, catastrophe struck a close friend.  At least, that’s what I learned many months after the fact.  In the intervening time, I thought—well, I don’t know what I thought.  I just knew she seemed to be avoiding me. “I didn’t want to bother you,” she said when I asked why she hadn’t asked me—a long-time, close friend—for help.  And while I knew it was churlish of me to be thinking about my feelings rather than hers, the truth was that I was hurt.  Clearly, our friendship didn’t mean the same thing to her if she couldn’t even tell me what was going on.  Obviously, we weren’t as close as I thought if she couldn’t ask me for help when she needed it.

I thought about this friend recently when several board members of an organization told me they didn’t feel comfortable asking annual donors for a major gift.  These donors, they opined, had already given.

Now, I hope that you are not only going to your donors when catastrophe strikes.  Indeed, I hope catastrophe doesn’t strike at all.  But your relationship with your donors is very similar to that you have with friends.  That means that you share, or should share what is going on with your (organization’s) life.  It also means that you find ways to share and involve your donors and prospects (more) in your organization.

And yes, oftentimes that means asking your donor for help.

Note that doesn’t have mean help as in “we’re in trouble.”  It can mean, “help us to continue or start something.”  It can also mean help us to grow, and help us to ensure our future.  And it is precisely the people with whom you have a long standing relationship—generally your annual donors—who are most likely to want to help.

We all know that the reason many people don’t make charitable donations is because no one asks them.  And we also know that too often the only people we do ask are the same people we’ve been asking to support us over the years. But if you’ve been careful to involve them in the life of the organization, they won’t be offended that you are asking….again.

They may not always give. Oftentimes, especially for larger gifts, you will need to nurture the relationship and take your time before that next ask.  But you must keep them close.

Keeping them close will help you to learn what their needs are.  Yes, their needs.  Donors don’t always give for the reasons we think.  Sure, they care about the work you do.  Perhaps passionately.  And that passion oftentimes translates into a dream they want to accomplish

But they can’t accomplish their dream if you don’t give them the opportunity to do so.  And that means asking them for their support and their help.  Honestly, they will thank you for it.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at or by emailing her at