Like, I don’t have capacity for that. And they don’t have capacity for that level detail of our work. If they want it, they’ll ask you the questions.
It’s this thing that happens over and over, because — here’s an example. I worked with this CEO once, and I was hired to teach him how to talk to human people, like a human person. It was a very difficult job.
So, he kept getting great donor meetings, and he wasn’t closing any gifts. And I could not figure out what the problem was, so finally, I was like, “I’m going to come with you.” It’s going to be great.
So I went with him to meetings, and what would happen was, he was getting into such detail with the donors that their eyes were glazing over, and then after he was done with his 15-minute pitch, they literally would say — this happened, like, three times in a row — “God, that sounds great. Congratulations. Keep up the good work.” And that was the meeting, which was obviously not the outcome we were looking for.
So, he couldn’t understand what I was trying to say to him, that I finally, in an act of sheer desperation, was like … “You know what I love? I love NASA. I love NASA. I think it is unbelievably amazing we have figured out how to get a person to the Moon. I think it’s awesome. I think the idea of getting someone to the Moon, and they walk on the Moon, and I love rocket ships. I love rocket ships, rocket ships are amazing. But if you start to tell me about the rocket ship, and how it gets to the Moon, and the math and the science equations, on how the rocket ship gets to the Moon, I promise you, I will hang myself with my own hair.”
I was like, “That is not how you tell people about your work. What is the need?” Like, what’s the point, right? How do you address the need, why are you better at it than anybody else? And what can you do to make it about them? How can they help you get to the Moon? That’s the good stuff. If you’re able to do that, you’re probably ready to make the ask.
Now, I don’t expect everyone to be super excited to ask people for money. That’s why development is an actual profession and not an awkward hobby.
Naturally great fundraisers love people, they can and will talk to anyone, they can find common ground with anyone, they’re your friends that talk to people in the elevator or at the grocery store. They believe in the work required to both build relationships and keep them. And they naturally have a high tolerance for rejection.
But I don’t expect everyone to be a natural, and you don’t have to be a natural to raise money. You just have to respect the people and the process, and do the work.
Will you reconcile your baggage? Will you commit to build relationships? If you will, you’re ready to make the ask.
And the ask is oftentimes as simple as using the phrase “Would you consider?” Would you consider becoming a monthly donor? Would you consider increasing your support to 100 dollars? Would you consider investing in our work at the one-million-dollar level?
“Would you consider” does a couple of awesome things. One, it gives the donor an easy way out. Like, they can say “no” without it being “yes-no.” And two, it gives you a second ask. “Well, what would you consider?” It’s good, right?
When you do this, remember, you’re not asking for yourself. You’re asking on behalf of all of the people you serve or are touched by your genius. This isn’t a personal favor, right? Feel proud of the ask — it’s incredible that you do this work. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, you’re going to go to these meetings and think you need to big-shot it. Be yourself, authenticity matters, nobody likes a phony. Just be yourself.
And please, please don’t torpedo your own ask. What I mean by this is don’t walk into the meeting and say — I had an ED that did this all the time, I stopped inviting him. He’d say, “We’re not here today to ask you for money.” Yes, we are!
That’s exactly, literally, why we’re here today. Don’t do that. Don’t say, “Whatever you can do to help.” That is hands down the fastest way to get the smallest possible gift someone thinks they can give you and get away with. Not kidding.
And don’t take it back. Once you’ve made the ask — “Would you consider supporting us at the 10,000-dollar level? Or the five? Or the two? Or one? You know what? Take the year off. You’re the best, thanks!” Don’t do that! Ask the question, wait till 10, count to 10 before you speak again, keep your face like this.
They are grown-ups. They have all the power in this situation. They can answer the question. Don’t take it back.
Which brings me to my favorite. Don’t ask, don’t get. If you don’t make an actual ask, no one will give you actual money. And if no one gives you actual money, you actually can’t do anything with it. It’s very simple — don’t ask, don’t get.
Listen, I would love to live in a world where we didn’t have to ask people for money to do important work that will change people’s lives. I would love to not have to teach people how to make a case for the importance of feeding and housing and educating people.