There is an art to asking for a donation. I am not talking just about intuition and creativity. To become a great artist, you have to spend years learning and perfecting your craft, and it doesn’t come easy. You have to fail countless times until you get it right. You are constantly looking for what techniques, styles, compositions compliment one another. Most importantly you search for your authentic style.
The same applies with the ask in fundraising. If you don’t take the time to learn the craft, you won’t get the results that you want. You will struggle to raise funds, and you won’t find your authentic voice.
Step 1: find whom to ask
The first step in crafting your ask is to understand who your ideal donor is. Most Catholic organizations think their ideal donor is any Catholic, but that’s not true. Nor is it true that you can reach out to non-Catholics. Your ideal donor is someone who relates to you and your mission. Yes, your donors will likely be religious, but that’s not enough. I say this because the days of running from one parish to another asking every Catholic or religious person you meet are outdated for two reasons.
The first is because you don’t have time to be running around. Visiting one parish after another to ask for money is time-consuming and stressful. It deviates your focus from your mission. You have better things to spend your weekends doing.
The second reason is it is ineffective. Catholics vary so much in what causes they wish to support that you often speak to deaf ears. It’s not that Catholics are unsympathetic to your mission. It’s just they have different interests when it comes to supporting a charity. Also, they don’t always appreciate being asked during or after Mass.
To understand who your ideal donor is, pay close attention to who currently donates to you and why they give. If you don’t have any current donors, ask the people around you, “what would inspire you to donate to me?” This question is much more valuable than, “will you donate?” By collecting people’s responses, you uncover the narrative that makes people say, “yes, I’d like to donate.” You want to know what this narrative and then find people who live by it.
Step 2: learn what to say
Once you know your ideal donor, you find the thread that connects why they do or would donate. What are the common themes, words, emotions, actions that inspire them to your mission? By putting all of this information together, you will learn the underlying reasons why people give. This is important because people give because they want to, not because you asked them to.
Therefore, discover the common emotions, words, stories, experiences that connect everyone.
Once you have all this information, make it the foundation of your ask. You now have the canvas for an effective gift request to use over and over again.
Another reason why this is important is because when you do ask people for a donation, you are presenting a case that is founded on why other people donate, not on why you think someone should donate.
Step 3: confidently say the words, “please give.”
The basic structure of a donation request goes like this.
You present the clear, actionable tasks your Catholic cause is doing. Again, the words you use come from the responses that people gave you.
You then present the social problem or issue you are working to resolve. Again, in the language of your current donors.
You outline how you are making a difference and how you continue to move forward. (in the language of current donors.)
You lay out a clear plan for how you will continue. As always, this information is described not in words you think explain these points clearly.
All of this information is presented using the words, emotions, and comments from your current donors. It offers a clear description of who you are, what you do, how you do it, and how you are making a difference.
You then ask for their financial support. Again, completing these steps takes time and effort to perfect. You develop your ask by continuously improving how well you communicate to potential donors the reason your donors give. You separate yourself from the situation, just like an artist separates himself from his artwork. He has to allow his art to do the talking.
Remember, your ask is not a plea for help or a time to give a thousand reasons why someone should donate. Rather, your ask is an opportunity to present your mission through the words of your current donors.
You must look at your donation request as an art. Take the time to craft your request so it clearly inspires people. You can find your authentic voice by using this simple exercise to get you started in the right direction.
Pray – Reflect on the type of donor who would be most interested in your work. Apart from being Catholic, what else makes them unique? What qualities do they all share? Read chapters 8 and 9 of the Book of Wisdom which will help guide you in the right direction for finding the right words and people.
Pray – Reflect on your mission and the plan which moves you forward. What are the three to four specific actions you do to carry out your mission? You can ask your current donors (or people around you) what these are. Write a sentence for each one. Then, write three to four sentences that explain in more detail each of these actions.
Pray – Put together a case for support that connects your mission to their mission. Your high-level message should read, “people like you and me do things like this.” Read chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Job and reflect on Job’s response when it comes to dealing with a difficult situation. Learn from Job how to have an attitude of humility and trust in God.
Ask – Share your case for support with people who match your ideal donor profile. When asking for a donation, ask them directly by using open questions (how, what, when, why, who, where). For example, say, “What do you think about supporting us with a donation of [insert amount]?” “When could you start giving regularly an amount of [insert amount]?”
Question: How can make your next gift request more authentic?
You have a message that you want others to hear. You are inspired to bring Jesus into the world, and you want people to be as inspired as you. Sometimes you ponder about the possibilities in front of you. You see all the people’s lives you will help. You see it right in front of you. Now the question is how to get them to donate.
However, reality sets in when you look at what’s around you. No one is listening to you.
Why? We live in a noisy world where everyone has a message and wants to be heard. Everyone is also asking for donations. You and a million other people want to do something great, and you all want people’s financial support. So how do you get people’s attention and money?
The most common approach seems to shout louder than everyone else. If you still don’t have their attention, shout even louder. On top of that, you likely won’t get many opportunities, so you scream the one message you want people to do: Please donate!
Stop screaming, “Please donate!” because people are not listening
As you cry for help, among the cacophony of every else’s pleas for money, you have to realize that the people live noisy, busy, and distracting lives. They are trying to find ways to keep sanity, so the last thing they want is a charity constantly asking them to donate. When they hear you do this, they shut you off. They throw your appeal letter in the trash. They tune you out during your parish appeal. They walk away without even considering what you have to say.
So, let’s face the cold hard fact. Breaking through the noise and getting donations are practically impossible. That’s why most fundraising campaigns fail. There’s just too much noise, and too many people don’t want to listen. They are looking for peace and quiet. Not more demands of their money.
You can hope that people will eventually donate, but this is a passive approach that won’t get you very far, especially if you have ambitious plans. You have to take a different approach and rise above the noise. I know because God doesn’t want you to stress. He wants you to be smart and do what he’s calling you to do.
If everyone is on the same interstate that’s jammed with bumper to bumper traffic, you’ve got to get off onto a side road to get to your destination. Let’s do just that.
In order to fundraise effectively in today’s Catholic landscape, you have to face an important. First, you have to understand that the strategy of hope fundraising doesn’t work. “Let’s pray people will donate,” or “Let’s hope this campaign works.” These approaches usually imply that you just wait and see what happens. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in hope and prayer, but I think most people view hope and prayer in a secular way, not a Catholic way. Prayer and hope require action, not sitting around.
Instead, I recommend you have an active approach to getting people’s attention that is much more aligned with our Catholic faith. If you want people to hear you, you simply have to speak in a gentle and consistent voice. When you combine these two factors together, consistently present and gently speaking, you have your best chance of being heard. Therefore, you want to find your consistent and tempered voice.
Who do you know that does this? God.
There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?
– 1 Kings 19: 11-13
You won’t hear God screaming from rooftops. You won’t see him disrupting your day to day to get your attention. You won’t see him pushing himself in front of a crowd to be seen. You see and hear him only after you pause and recognize that he’s been with you the entire time.
You have to follow the same approach. You want to place yourself in the same situation when people finally pause and take notice of who’s around them.
From my experience, the best way to get someone to donate is to always be there with your calm voice until the moment presents itself. It’s the moment when the person is ready to take action. You can’t force someone to see you, listen to you, and then donate. You have to offer them the best possibility to do so.
Breaking through the noise and being heard is harder than ever, but with a consistent approach to presenting your calm voice, you will be heard and rise above the static. It’s a paradox that works every time. You just have to be patient.
You don’t need to shout. You just have to keep tapping away. You have to know what you want to say and keep saying it. Week by week, month by month, and people will hear you. It’s only a matter of time that they trust what you say, and when that happens, and you are off to the races.
That’s why patience is so important. It’s also a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so pray to receive it. God gave you a voice. Use it wisely, spread the message of your mission, and patiently watch more people listen to you. Plant seeds, then add water and let God do the growing, but he can’t grow if you don’t plant.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6
A Catholic approach to getting heard
Today’s approach to Catholic fundraising requires a return to a traditional approach to being heard. This means following God’s approach to a calm and moderated voice when asking for people’s support. I recommend following these four steps which will help you find a more authentic voice when it comes to asking for money.
Pray – Take time to collect several examples of messages you’ve shared with people over the past six months. Reflect on how you got people’s attention by asking yourself, “was my voice clear, consistent, and tempered?”
Pray – Read chapters five and six of the Book of Sirach. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you have sincerity in speech and honesty in discourse. Write down your reflections on how you can have a consistent, present, and tempered voice.
Pray – Spend time quietly mapping out a 52-week plan for communicating your messages to Catholics. Make sure to balance your voice, so you aren’t just asking for donations. Focus on sharing information that helps people take action in your work. Also, consider the different mediums (the web, social media, email, letters, events) you will use to communicate your message.
Ask – Execute your 52-week communications plan. Be patient with getting your voice heard over the noise. Have faith that in time more and more people will turn to you.
Question: How can you make your voice heard when fundraising?
When you are preparing for a donation request or even a campaign, you likely wonder, “What do I say to someone for them to give me money?”
You see the success other Catholic charities have, and you think, “If I can learn what they are saying, I can have the same results.” You think that there’s got to be some formula, some method, some strategy, that if replicated will get people to give.
If you just knew what to say, you would say it over and over and have tremendous. Then you’ll have more than enough donations coming in continuously. You would also have people coming to you ready to give.
You are right. There are specific words, placed in a specific order, that will get people to donate, and today is your lucky day. I’m going to tell you exactly what those words are so you can have life-changing results with your fundraising.
Words are a delicate matter in fundraising, especially in the Catholic context. Words make up the sentences, paragraphs and messages you share with people to get them to take action. Meaning, words get people to give. Words either capture or lose people’s attention and inspiration to give. Words either trigger emotions, thoughts, and decisions that make people donate, or they don’t.
The #1 Reason Why No One Donates to You
Most charities focus on the words they use, but only the ones that trigger an immediate reaction.
For example, a lot of time is spent crafting that perfect emotional response to get a person to respond right then and there. Their appeal leads up to a fast-acting response such as: “Donate now”, “Save these people today”. “Act now”.
Words that direct all the attention to an immediate financial act are putting you in a high-risk situation. It’s like knowing if you play okay the entire game, you still can shot a “hail Mary” to win the game. If you make it, you win, but if you don’t, you lose and don’t get another chance. It’s the same with an appeal. If you are just hoping the words land in the right place, you may win big but not often.
More than likely they won’t. My recommendation is to not place yourself in these situations. I call this hope fundraising, and I’m not talking about the good kind of hope.
Rather, you should be thinking, “What words do I use to inspire this person to stay with me for the long-term and be willing to open their wallet in the long run?”
You can take another route, one with a more probability of success because you have more time to use words that inspire people and get them to give. You can craft your message with the right words, so when the request does happen, you are shooting a layup rather than a “hail Mary”. This is what I want to focus on with you.
I want you to take the time to craft the right words about what you do, how you do it, and what impact you are having. Then, when it does come time to make the request, it’s easy for you and the other person.
I am going to tell you one of the pillars of fundraising. Get a piece of paper, write it down, tape it to your wall, and look at it every day.
Here is the principle: people don’t give because you asked them. Yes, it’s important to ask. If you don’t ask, you won’t raise much at all. However, people don’t give as a result of the ask itself. Nor do they give because you think your work is important. Nor do they give because you are making a difference in the world. None of that matters in fundraising.
People don’t give because of what you think is important. They give because of what they think is important.
The Secret Formula to Writing the Words that Get Donations
I’m now going to tell you which words to use. You will see that it’s not some secret or magic formula. It’s actually straightforward. You simply ask your current donors what inspired them to give.
Plans made after advice succeed. – Proverbs 20:18
Then, you find the common thread (the words that keep appearing) among the answers and use those as your foundation for your next appeal. Yes, it’s that simple. You just ask donors, “what got you to donate?” What was said to inspire them? How was it explained to them? When was it said? Who said it? Why did it have such an impact? I’m a big fan of using surveys, especially online surveys, to collect this information.
I think the reason surveys work so well is because you are listening to people. Listening is extremely important in fundraising because we often get caught doing most of the talking.
You just have to say the right words at the right time. By listening, especially to your current donors, you can do exactly this. If you don’t have any current donors, make a list of people who know about you and your work and ask them, “If you were to give, what would inspire you to do so?” Their answers will get you in the right direction.
Practical Steps to Picking the Right Words for Your Next Fundraiser
Your vocabulary is the driving factor in your success. If you aren’t getting the results you want, it’s likely because your words are focused on you, not your donors. Your words are bland, not accurate. Your words are pushy, not inspiring.
The Pray, Pray, Pray, Ask method of Catholic fundraising.
Here is a simple approach for finding the right words and correctly using them.
Pray – Ask what inspires people to find the right words to use.
Pray – Reflect on Proverbs chapter 20. Then, review, the responses from the survey. Identify the key themes, particularly around how donors see themselves collaborating with your work.
Pray – Identify the words, phrases, and messages that reflect why people are inspired to donate to you.
Ask – Use these new words in your next appeal and request letter.
Question: When is the last time you asked your donors what inspired them to donate and used their responses to write your next appeal?
The vocabulary we use as fundraisers is very important. We want to ask people to donate. But we don’t want to push their boundaries. This can be a difficult balance to maintain. I’ve seen how some Catholic organisations, unfortunately, cross this line, coming across pushy and needy.
I admit to having crossed these boundaries too. I have used the classic fundraising words (“donate now”, “we need your help”, “please donate”) that I hoped would push people to act immediately. I was quite uncomfortable when doing this, but I wasn’t aware of any other way to fundraise.
This ‘need’ mentality would eventually divert all my attention to money. Nothing else mattered but getting donations. Luckily, I realized quite quickly this strategy wasn’t a viable, long-term solution. The number of donors wasn’t increasing. Nor were the funds. Being ‘needy’ wasn’t a sustainable way to fundraise.
If you look at today’s culture, we constantly say “I need this” and “I need that”. I was doing the same thing: needing donations.
I decided to fast from these two words: “I need”. My hope was to see if my results would improve. They did. My fundraising accelerated beyond expectations. I began building more relationships, finding many new donors and raising, even more, funds. It was incredible.
So here are three tips I learned for how to improve your language when you fundraise:
1. Use the word “want” instead of “need”
This may sound like a trivial change or even a more blunt way of expressing yourself, but it actually positions your fundraising on solid ground. When you use the word “want”, you shift your perception of fundraising: it moves you forward rather than keeping you afloat.
Countless saints have accomplished incredible works without money. The same applies to you. Receiving or not receiving donations does not determine whether or not you will carry out your mission. You, therefore, don’t need money. Additional funds would be helpful, but money is not the driver of your organization.
2. Don’t lower your expectations
When we operate from a position of neediness, we immediately lower our expectations. We think, “If we don’t get funding, we cannot accomplish what we want.” Neediness turns us into egocentric individuals. We shift our attention from helping others to helping ourselves.
We certainly need family, friendship, satisfying work and hobbies. We need faith, hope, and love. We each have our list of the essentials. But it is a short list. It should not include a particular £500 donation or £20,000 grant. Why? Because there will always be other donations and grants.
I, therefore, recommend you don’t make concessions and change your mission based on the amount you raise. With God’s graces, you will always find what you are looking for.
3. Focus on relationships, not outcomes
You can never control how much money you raise. Why? Each donation is the result of a someone’s decision to give. This personal and private decision is something you cannot control, but what you can control, more or less, is the relationship between you and the person.
I recommend that your vocabulary is focused on building solid, authentic and personal relationships.
When you focus your language on relationships rather than financial demands or outcomes, you stay rooted in your mission. And the deeper these roots are, the more opportunities will come your way to building relationships with people who will want to donate.
Donors are looking for Catholic organizations which authentically communicate with them. You can achieve this by using words that demonstrate connections and impact, rather than ‘neediness’.
Joyously use words like “want”, “ask”, “would like”, “enjoy”, “join”, “connect”, “engage” to improve your fundraising and attract more donors.
Remember: this shift from “needing” to “wanting” starts with the words you use. It then continues in your daily communications. Finally, it is grounded by how Catholics perceive your organization and respond.
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Discussion question: What words do you think works best in Catholic fundraising?