The Art Of The Ask

No matter what type of fundraising you are doing, you have to do the ask. The Art Of The Ask varies depending on how you’re raising funds – in person, online, in an appeal letter, or in an email – but it all comes down to getting people to donate money to your cause.

The Art Of The Ask

So, what’s the best way to do “the ask” for donations? To some extent it will depend on what fundraising method you are using, but there are four important principles that you should follow whenever you are asking someone for money.

Four Essential Elements Of The Ask

  1. Identify The Need
  2. Ask For Their Help
  3. Provide Emotional/Psychological Justification
  4. Show How Their Donation Will Make A Difference

That sounds like a lot of information to communicate in order to get a donation, but this is where “the art” comes in. What you need to do is reduce your donation request down to just the bare essentials.

You have to think like a salesperson who hones their sales pitch down to 30 seconds (aka the elevator pitch) or like the author who has to describe his novel in two sentences (or less).

So, the essence of the ask needs to be made in roughly 20 words. This is true regardless of whether its an online ask, a letter, an email, or asking in a face-to-face meeting. Everything else is just fluff – its small talk, preliminary justification, expanding on the need, touting your track record or previous successes, or expounding on the future.

It’s storytelling in a nutshell, but the words you use to do “the ask” are what trigger donations. Here’s what to say and how to say it.

How To Phrase Your Ask

Identify The Need – (nine words) – This is the first of the two sentences in your ask. Identify the person, cause, or group that’s in need of assistance. Use strong emotional phrasing to describe the need. Paint as powerful a picture as you can while using just a few words.

There are hundreds of fundraising causes and just as many needs. All of them compete for a prospective donor’s mind-share and money.

What you need to do is shamelessly tug at their heartstrings.

Example: “Our homeless shelter keeps people from freezing to death.”

Example: “A transplant is Jenny’s only hope or she’ll die.”

Ask For Their Help – (five words) – The phrase to use at the start of the second sentence is “Can you help us out…?” Feel free to substitute “me” or “them” in place of “us” if the fundraiser type calls for it, but “us” works best.

The crux of this phrase is that its a direct question and, in particular, a direct request for their help that requires a direct response.

The word “help” is also powerful. As human beings, we are socialized from an early age to give help when it’s requested. To not give help when its directly requested is perceived as “bad” and therefore requires an excuse for saying no.

And that’s why you want to include the next two parts in this second sentence of the ask – the psychological justification and the desired result.

Provide Emotional/Psychological Justification – (one word) – The magic word to use is “because” and here’s why.

The word “because” is an extremely powerful trigger word. It works better than any other word or phrase to provide an emotional/psychological justification for taking action. And your ask will not be as successful as it should be if you don’t provide that justification.

Your description of the need sets the emotional stage. Your asking for their help keys the brain to respond positively – as long as there is sufficient justification. People want to help, but there is a hierarchy of needs in their subconscious mind that needs to have a rational underpinning for a yes answer.

The word “because” satisfies their subconscious need to rationalize their decision. Studies show that the last part of “the ask” – how their donation will make a difference – doesn’t have to be as strong as you think it should be since the use of the word “because” already  provided sufficient justification.

Think of the all-time great parenting phrase “because I said so.” It’s not really a reason except as a reminder of authority, yet it works like a charm. It’s the same authority level the child was just questioning, except now their mind has a justification for their decision.

Show How Their Donation Will Make A Difference – (six words) – The phrasing you use to show how their donation will make a difference (or change the world for the better) is going to vary depending on what type of fundraiser appeal you are making.

That’s stating the obvious, but there’s a reason for that. If the first sentence of your ask conveyed the right level of emotion and need, then they already know how their donation will make a difference.

Think about online fundraising donation pages with a deadline for donations. There’s a reason that most of the donations come in during the last 48 hours of something that’s being crowd-funded. It’s because people can clearly see that their donation will make a difference by closing the gap between the goal (the need) and the current funding level.

Similarly, if you’re talking about donations to help feed or shelter the homeless, that can be translated into “x amount of dollars provides y amount of food or shelter.”

So, when you say “Can you help us out because your donation directly helps fix this?” you’ve stated the obvious, but you’ve also called up the emotional need that you covered in the first sentence of your ask.

It’s important to understand that you don’t want to say too much after using the word “because” since that will weaken its effect.

Even modifying the sentence thusly, “Can you help us out because your donation will directly help fix this (insert problem here)?” weakens its impact considerably. It actually leads them to question whether the problem can really be fixed.

The key part of the back end justification phrase is “directly helps fix.” It strongly implies targeted giving with the word “directly” and it re-leverages the front end “ask for help” into “helps fix.”

Using the word “this” as the object of the phrase serves to return the donor’s mind back to the initial statement of need. and its emotional underpinnings. There is no need to say more.

In fact, if this is a face-to-face donation request, then that’s where you shut your mouth and maintain strong eye contact. The ask is the endpoint and all you do is await the answer. If you’ve done the ask correctly, then you’ll get a positive response.

Bottom line? Tell your story succinctly, provide strong emotional underpinning, and leverage The Art Of The Ask to get what you need.