What to say (and not say) when asking for donations

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say this because the days of running from one parish to another asking every Catholic or religious person you meet are outdated for two reasons.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.

A simple exercise to help you ask for money

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?