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A Great Fundraising Ask Is...

Yesterday I shared my 4+1 Very Simple, Very Easy, Not-At-All-Intimidating Steps To An Ask. Catchy, huh? The post was intended to offer a bit of reassurance that a fundraising ask doesn’t have to be as difficult as we make it out to be.

Since I was thinking about the subject, I thought I’d offer a bit more advice on what separates a mediocre ask from a great one.

A great fundraising ask is…

  • Tactical. I’m busy. Tell me exactly what you want me to do. Don’t tell me to care about world hunger. Ask me to bring three cans of food to X location at Y time. 
  • Practical. A great ask is within my means to carry out. Don’t ask me for $50,000 if I can afford $50. The latter makes me consider your mission; the former makes me question my career.
  • Authentic. A great ask is for a cause/mission/change/better world that you, as the asker, believe in. You have to believe in your mission.  
  • A question. Too many fundraising asks get derailed in the punctuation! Maybe it is because asking feels awkward, but we often let our audience off the hook by making a statement instead of a solicitation. For example, “So I hope that you will donate today.” That’s not an ask, it’s a sentence. (And it isn’t tactical, either.) How about, “Will you help create a better world by donating $50 today?”
  • Uttered! A fundraising ask actually needs to be asked! Speak your change to power!

As I wrote yesterday, asking isn’t brain surgery. It sure is intimidating — but it doesn’t have to be. It can be fulfilling and inspiring and enriching.

Which gets me to the picture in this post. What does the smiling popcorn boy have to do with fundraising asks? Well, to be honest, nothing really — that’s my son Danny. But he sure is cute!

On the other hand, his joy reminds me of asking — of what it can feel like to give, of what it should feel like to speak about the nobility of our mission, and more than anything, about what the world will look like when we accomplish our goals. 

Good luck and best wishes. I know you can do it.

The 4+1 Very Simple, Very Easy, Not-At-All-Intimidating Steps To An Ask


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. 

From Awareness to Fundraising

One of the primary relationships in event fundraising is the link between participants and donations. In general, the more participants a program has, the more donations it should raise. This is because participants bring in donors, and donors give donations – and so as participants increase, the overall fundraising should increase as well.

However, although this is a primary mathematical relationship, it is also the number one challenge facing most nonprofit organizations. Simply put, many fundraising events underperform – not because of a lack of participants, but because the participants do not fundraise. In almost every engagement we manage, therefore, we find that at least part of our task is to take an event that has successfully created awareness and help our client transform it into a successful fundraising program.

Do your events raise awareness, but no money? Are you struggling to turn participants into fundraisers? The good news is that you can impact these results. From our work, we have identified four key steps to transform an event from a gathering of people into an effective fundraising program:

  • A well-articulated ask;
  • A segmented participant base;
  • A customized communication plan targeted to the segments; and
  • A management culture that supports fundraising.

I’ve recently written a free white-paper outlining these steps in a bit more detail. I invite you to download it here.

Remember that attendance doesn’t fuel the programs that change the world — revenue does. Best wishes and good luck!