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As the founder and CEO of Plenty, I work with a wide range of nonprofit clients. The groups range in size from annual revenues of few hundred thousand dollars to nearly a billion or more; the causes span from health to the environment to social change; the personnel varies from first-year volunteers to professionals who are true legends of fundraising. And yet almost everyone I work with has one problem in common: They don’t know how to ask for support. Even tenured professionals can find asking uncomfortable, awkward, and intimidating.

It doesn’t have to be. There’s already a lot of great writing and thinking on this subject — but judging from the amount of time I spend addressing this issue, the world will forgive me if I throw my own advice into the mix. 

An ask is really simple. It has four parts — well, really four plus one:

  1. The need you are trying to address
  2. Why it is important
  3. What you are doing about it
  4. “Will you help by doing X?”

And then the plus one: Shut up. 

It doesn’t need to sound stilted or formal or rehearsed — in fact, it shouldn’t. It should be personal and emotional and natural. 

Here’s an example: “One in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. As someone with a daughter, this is scary, depressing, and unacceptable to me. So I’m walking 60 miles this summer in the 3-Day for the Cure to change our future forever. Will you help me today by giving a donation of $50?” [Shut up.]

And from this small acorn grows the mighty oak of a better world!

Depending on the context, you may want a more formal statement of need, and statements of impact, and a developed case statement. But in many cases, those tools are just distractions we put in our own way to postpone the ask itself.

Get out of your way! Tell people the problem, why it matters, what you are doing, and then give them something specific they can do about it. I don’t care if the ask is for $10 or $10,000,000, the basics are the same. (Side note: You’re really not asking for $10, right? Right?!?)

That’s it! You can do it!

Tomorrow I’ll share a few more thoughts about what separates an okay ask from a great one.