For Board Members Who Fear Making The Ask

AnxietyNothing, but nothing, makes grown men and women shake as much as the prospect of asking someone to make a charitable gift. “I'll do anything but ask someone to give….” are common enough words from (otherwise wonderful) board members. But fundraising IS a board responsibility, so what is a member to do?

That’s a question I get to ask often. And typically, when I do, 90% of the people in the room cross arms and legs and look down. Interestingly, it’s not just board members. Often it is also staff.

So I change the question and ask, what is holding you back? And I hear:

  • Fear of hearing no.   While rejection isn’t wonderful—I mean who likes being rejected—probably isn’t what really worries these folks. It’s the yes that is of more concern to board members. Let’s face it-- two months after their friend has said sure, I’ll buy two $125 tickets to your event, he’s back asking them to support his annual appeal with a $500 gift. So give a little room to your board members.

Other things that get in the way?

  • It’s uncomfortable
  • Don’t like to ask friends
  • Don’t know who to ask
  • Don’t know how to ask

Despite the fact that most studies prove that philanthropic people are happier and that making a charitable gift actually brings the donor joy, too many people (think of fundraising as “hitting on” someone or begging.

Get over that!   Consider, instead, the reality that you are providing someone an opportunity to make a difference. Your job is to open the door and invite them to come through. Or, as I like to think of it—you are giving the prospective donor a gift.

How do you give that gift? It starts with clarity.

So whether you are asking another parent at your kids’ school to make that annual gift, a friend to buy a table at your gala or calling to set up an appointment to talk about a support a special campaign, tell the person exactly what you are calling about.

Be clear. “Hi Sally—it’s Janet. I’m calling you with my fundraising hat on. You probably got our annual appeal (sidebar here—many people will say, “No, I never got that.” Don’t bite—just say, “Sorry. Well, it’s that time again and we are asking people for an end of the year gift.) Last year, you gave us $100. Can we count on you for a $250 gift this year?

Where possible, do ask for a specific number. It actually is makes the whole thing more comfortable for the donor. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when someone approached you at work and said, “It’s Joe’s birthday. We’re collecting for his gift. Will you donate?” What’s the first question you ask? RIGHT—How much?

You don’t want to give too little—or too much. So if you can, when asking for a gift, have a suggested amount to ask.

In fact, for larger gifts, the amount should be part of the conversation from the get go. “Tom, thanks so much for meeting with me to talk about our capital campaign. We’re hoping that, once you learn more about what we are planning to do, you’ll be willing to consider a gift of $250,000.”

Now, Tom may well laugh and ask what you are smoking—what makes you think he could afford $250,000?

Turn that question around to a much more important one: “I hear you, Tom. It is a lot of money. But if money were no object, would you consider a gift of that size to our organization?”

If Tom says, “No way,” then do ask, “What size gift would you consider?” If, on the other hand, he says something like, “If I could, I’d give $250 million” you know that you have a fantastic donor and your job is to help him make the size gift he would like to make.

But you can’t just walk over to someone and ask for money. You need to be intentional—which means you must be prepared.

First, you have to know what you are asking for. Whether it is as simple as “Sarah, in November, we're having our Spring Gala, the proceeds which support the work we do to feed 250 families in our community. It would be great if you would purchase a table for $1,500.” Or as complex as, “Mary, you’ve been a fantastic and loyal donor and for that reason I want to make sure that you are one of the leaders in our endowment campaign. I want to get together with you and John to talk about a $500,000 planned gift from the two of you….” YOU have to be intentional about your ask.

Intentionality means that every move is mapped; every action considered. Before you go to ask a prospect to become a donor, know what you want your outcome to be; what you need to know to ensure that outcome; what you will need to learn about the prospect, and what information you must remember to impart.

And finally, before you can ask anyone for a gift, YOU have to have made a gift of your own. The best ask in the world—the one that is hardest to say no to—is the one where you ask someone to “Join with me in supporting this awesome organization. Let me tell you why it means so much to me.”

Janet Levine works with nonprofits--and board members--helping them to fundraise better.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter and do contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.