November 19, 2015

Fundraising Training: The Art of the Ask

by: Shelly Welch

Most of us have been in this situation at some point in our tenure in the Junior League or perhaps for our or our kids' schools: We need raffle prizes. We are going to ask people. We think we're prepared. We have handouts and information. Will anyone give anything to us for our cause? Will it be okay?

We couldn't have asked for a better group to share stories and advice. Moderated by Jacquetta Lannan, our panel consisted of Joanne Pasternak (JLPA-MP Sustainer, Executive Director, 49ers Foundation), Carrie Drake (Director of Donor Relations and Major Gifts at Sempervirens Fund and JLPA-MP Sustainer and Fundraising Council Advisor, Past President), Suzi Tinsley (JLPA-MP Sustainer and Past Gala Fundraising Co-Chair, Past President), Kristin Fabos Livingston (JLPA-MP Sustainer, Past Fund Development Chair and Executive Director, SeniorNet), and Ashley Cash (Development Officer, Silicon Valley Community Foundation).

Consider the first scenario, soliciting for a raffle prize or a sponsorship. It came up right at the end of our Q&A portion, asked by one of our attendees. Joanne Pasternak went right to work, throwing out suggestions and asking questions: Add value to your ask by saying you'll include their business in a directory given out to all the event participants if they donate, it doesn't have to be much. Just a photocopy of business cards handed out to attendees. How about telling them that you've spoken to their neighbors and list what they've given? And then ask them to refer you to other businesses, whether the answer is yes or no.

Our panel taught us that instead of asking "Who would give to our cause?"  we are more likely to get good results when we ask, "How do I make a yes possible?"

Cover your basics. Do your research. Make a value proposition about why your donor will want to give something to you. Craft your ask to fit in with a group's mission. Get a foot in the door, however small. If you're making a corporate ask, follow the rules of the ask. You can find those on an organization's website. Be professional, succinct, and to the point.  

Create relationships and connections. There are quite a few tools to open up a conversation. Suzi learns a person's favorite candy. Joanne immediately finds things she has in common with another person. Once you have a foot in the door, listen. Some asks are immediate, some require a few phone calls or meetings. It's easy to list off reasons why a person should give to your cause, and to make your points. Creating connections requires that you pay attention a what things your donors are passionate about. You never know, a no may only be a no for now, but there will be another opportunity somewhere down the line. 

Never underestimate the infectiousness of enthusiasm. Suzi's favorite ask was her first. She was selling tickets for our Pancake Breakfast. She went with a friend, who made her ask quietly and got no response. The silence created a vacuum which Suzi filled with her bubbly and inviting personality. "Hi! Would you like to come to our Pancake Breakfast? Bring your whole family! Your daughter is on my daughter's soccer team. Why don't we bring the whole team!" Her enthusiasm is infectious, like you get to be part of her big, fun party. If you are excited about your ask, you invite others to get excited, too. 

Be creative. Creativity in asking is like creativity in anything; it requires experience and finesse. Keep your eyes open. Look for stories. A good story is powerful because it can connect potential donors to your cause in ways that facts and figures may not be able. Keep an eye open for potential connections. Use social media. Take pictures and use video and post them where your donors can see them and get involved. There are many ways to ask someone to sponsor your your event. Think of creative ways to use your event to create new business for your sponsor. It can be as easy as handing out a list of sponsors and their contact information to event attendees or as complicated as doing a bus tour of sites and programs that your organization supports. 

Show gratitude more often than you ask for things. A lot can be accomplished by something as simple as a hand-written thank you note. Think about it. Would you that an organization only send you a Tax ID letter? Personal touches matter. In a league where we change roles yearly, it's important for us to think of ourselves as stewards for future years. "Think long-term," says Carrie. Any stewardship you do paves the way for the next person to make an ask."