Perfect Your Pitch: How to Make A Fundraising Ask

What’s the most commonly overlooked fundraising mistake?

Failing to ask.

Failing to ask for people’s help, their time, their generosity. There’s so much to ask for in a benefit auction—items, sponsorships, volunteers, donations, new guests, high bids, referrals, influence. I once counted and found at least 54 separate asks.

So we’d better get good at it!

In my article, Perfect Your Pitch I’ll give you some insights and some easy-to-use tips to ask unabashedly and confidently. To get you started, I’ve included some strategies from Chapter 5 of my new book A Higher Bid.

Nonprofits and schools have scrapbooks full of life-changing stories they forget to retell. They have urgent needs they never describe.

Donors want—and need—to hear about the impact their gifts will have. They want to know they’re making a real difference. As long as you communicate that, your ask will be a powerful and welcome invitation.

First, The First Rule of Fundraising

The first rule of fundraising—I’ll keep repeating it—is that people give to people, for things they care about. When you’re looking for the best way to invite people to your benefit auction event, you might use save-the-date cards and invitations. However, the most powerful, potent, and effective way is to make a personal ask—not by e-mail or text! In person, over a cup of coffee, or at the very least, by phone.

The personal ask makes a huge difference. It’s about cultivating a relationship early—before your benefit auction—and continuing that relationship during and after the event. Remember, you are now building relationships with your guests so that you’ll continue to raise funds after your benefit auction. This is because you’ve designed the event as a cultivation event as much as a fundraising event. With nurturing, the relationship you started will continue for the long term. People give to people for things they care about.

What to Say? How to Ask? A Powerful Primer

As a young professional in my early twenties, I volunteered for a St. Louis YWCA event that provided excellent fundraising training. The presenter, a senior advancement officer at Saint Louis University Hospital who had just raised $60 million for a capital campaign, taught us the powerful words to use when making an “ask.” He encouraged us to pass the wisdom forward.

Here’s how I’ve adapted his invaluable words: “Would you be willing to consider donating (fill in the specific dollar amount) so that your gift will (fill in the impact of the donor’s gift) for (fill in the name of your organization)?” Then, simply wait quietly. Don’t interrupt. Hold the silence.

Use this model at your meeting and role-play with team members. Ask, for example, “Would you be willing to consider purchasing two reservations for our fundraiser auction so that we can increase outreach at schools for the our Great Cause?” Asking, “Would you be willing to consider” is not looking for a yes or no. You’re just opening the door for the donor to consider the opportunity you’ve just graciously offered.

Keep Asking

Build long-term connections that start at your auction fundraiser. Think of every guest as a long-term donor. Ask how you can align your guests with the work your organization is doing. Help your board members to discover the connections your guests have to the mission and to members. Understand each person’s interests and core values and how they relate to the core values of your organization.

You want your guests to feel moved by your work, to feel deeply interested in the work you do as a nonprofit, and to be deeply touched by the difference you’re making. It all starts with your ask.

I’m sure there are lots of other great tips for making an ask for fundraising events and auctions. What’s your favorite?

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