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Nonprofit Strategies

5 tips to help you confidently navigate the “ask”

These five tips will give you the tools you need to both confidently navigate the ask and increase your chances of winning a donation.

Jake Savage
February 24, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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I've noticed a common theme lately in my conversations with all types of nonprofits: many fundraisers struggle with how to confidently navigate "the ask." As someone who’s knocked on nearly 100,000 doors as a former door-to-door sales rep, I’ve got plenty of thoughts on this one! For the sake of time, though, we’ll stick with just five thoughts today. These five tips will give you the tools you need to both confidently navigate the ask and increase your chances of winning a donation.

But what does this have to do with the nonprofit world? 🤷

Before we start, I know what you might be thinking. You might be telling yourself to take these tips with a grain of salt because they come from the sales world and not the nonprofit world, right? It’s true. There’s a big difference between those two realms. However, I’d encourage you to stick with me here because I actually had the chance to use these five tips last summer during my first ever personal fundraising campaign. Long story short - I’d heard that some anti-trafficking organizations had put their fundraising efforts on hold due to Covid-19. Wanting to find a way to continue supporting victims of trafficking during a tough time, I decided I’d hold my own virtual race fundraiser. We ended up raising over $330,000 in three months. That amount was enough to fund 49 rescue missions around the globe! My point here is that these five tips do translate to the nonprofit realm and I’m excited to share them with you today.

Mindset matters 🧠

We’ll get to the tips shortly but before we do, it’s critical that we understand the importance of having a positive mindset for the meeting! The reason for this is because no amount of tips or methods will help you to become better at your job if you’re walking into donor meetings (or logging into them) with a negative mindset! Let me set the scene here with a quick story about a time where I was on the other side of the table as a potential donor:

A few years ago, I met with a fundraiser from a nonprofit. That person's intent for our first meeting was to build a relationship with me and educate me on their work. My intent for our first meeting was to make a donation. I had already researched the organization, knew the jist of their work, and knew I wanted to support the cause.

The meeting came and went. No ask was made so no donations were made. Then the fundraiser reached out to meet a second time. The same thing happened. No ask was made so no donations were made. Then the fundraiser reached out to meet a third time. Still, no ask was made. It was as if this person was just going through the motions; setting up meetings in order to make their quota for the month. It did not seem to me as though they were actually interested in getting me to donate. Finally, I decided I'd ask them if I could make a donation. The person was thrilled, naturally.

My point here is that sometimes potential donors actually want you to ask. They're waiting for it, even! Don't feel like you're being a nuisance by asking someone to give. You might literally be doing exactly what they hoped for!

OK, now that we’ve got our mindset right for our next meeting, let’s dive into the five tips to help you confidently navigate the ask!

1. Don’t make assumptions 🛑

Never assume that a potential donor is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in moving forward. Many salespeople make the mistake of projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto their stakeholder. They might assume that a potential donor would “balk at the amount” or would “never enter a long-term partnership” - just because those are things they would or wouldn’t do. You don’t know what the other person is thinking so don’t make a decision for them!

Here's a quick real-world example: One time while selling cars in college, I had a married couple drive three hours to my dealership to buy a car for the wife. We drove several vehicles in their price range and finally, after 7 hours together, we were down to the final negotiations. We agreed on a price and I strolled into my manager’s office to print out the contract. Before leaving the office, my manager asked me if I thought the husband would want to buy a car too. I told him there was no way. They’d had a strict budget and it had been like pulling teeth just to make the one car happen. Without saying anything, he got up and walked over to my desk where the couple was sitting. The manager sat down in front of them, rattled off some joke about the car-buying process, and then asked the husband if he’d want to buy a car as well - since they were already at the dealership and had driven three hours to get there. The couple looked at each other, looked back at the manager and I and said, “Yes, actually. That’s a good idea. We’ll take two of the Santa Fe’s.”

2. Provide options to choose from 🍔 🍕

Although every conversation is different, I do have a “go-to” closing (asking) technique. It’s called, “the options close.” With this method, I ask my stakeholder a hypothetical question involving two different options to choose from. Example: “If we were to test out a partnership, where do you think would make the most sense to start? A and B? Or maybe just A for now? You obviously know where you need the support more than I do.”

Three things are happening when you use the “options close”: 1) you’re giving your potential donor the higher status for this part of the conversation by intentionally giving them control of the decision making process; 2) they become the one to convert the scenario from hypothetical to literal when they choose one of the options, not you; and 3) you’re creating a win-win scenario since they had a say in the final decision.

3. Incorporate humor where possible 🤣

Incorporate humor. Here are three reasons why laughter is helpful when it comes to navigating the ask: 1) laughter causes physiological changes in our body that reduce stress hormones, 2) humans can’t experience two emotions at once. Thus, if our stakeholder is genuinely laughing, they can’t feel stressed or anxious, and 3) laughter enhances our intake of oxygen rich air. This causes our brains to release endorphins which will boost creativity and problem-solving skills. Both of which are important when discussing finances and partnerships!

4. Sync your body posture (this doesn’t mean mimic their body language) 👀

Be mindful of your body posture and positioning. During the “asking” stage, you want to be next to your potential donor and not across from them. This will help to convey that you’re on the same team, working together to achieve a shared goal. If you’re making the ask over a video call, make sure your camera is level with your eye line. If the webcam is higher up and pointed downward toward your face, it can put you in too low of a status position during a pivotal moment (the potential donor is looking down at you). If the camera is lower and pointed upward, it may make your stakeholder feel as though they’re looking up at you. This is also bad because now your potential donor’s status is too low. Make sure your eye lines are matched!

5. Stay quiet after making the ask 🤐

Shut up altogether after asking your giving question. This is where a lot of salespeople and fundraisers drop the ball, usually to prevent an “awkward silence.” Oftentimes, your potential donor will want or need a moment to think about their response. If you fill that moment with more information that they don’t really need, they may feel as though you’re trying to prevent them from thinking about the offer. This feeling will decrease their trust in you and can increase their chances of saying no. By shutting up, you’re giving them the space and respect they deserve to make the best decision for themselves.

Moving forward ⏩

Before attempting these tips in your next donor meeting, it’s incredibly important that you make time to practice. You can do this solo or by asking for some help. Either way, running through your “ask” several times will help to prepare you for a real-world scenario. If you do decide to practice solo, I’d strongly recommend recording yourself! I guarantee you’ll catch certain nuances of your speech and body language that you were previously unaware of. Mastering the art of delivery here will help to boost your confidence when you need it the most.

Looking for more tools to help you excel at navigating the ask? Check out my podcast, Persuasion School. Below are four episodes that will help you specifically with this crucial step in your donor meetings:

Givebutter made a $100 donation to Jake's campaign of choice, Child Sex Trafficking: End It, for this guest blog.

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