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Ace the Ask in 5 Easy Steps

Updated: May 8, 2023

Take-away: Practice to perfect your ask until it’s second-nature.

Hit, bump, bounce. Hit, bump, bounce. Panting, swearing, my blistered hand swung the racquet again.

Sometimes fundraising feels like hitting tennis balls against a wall. Hour after hour. Mind-numbing. Discouraging. Getting the same results or worse as we tire.

But have you checked your fundraising form?

My tennis coach, Dennis Olenik, says practice does NOT make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Repeated actions create neural pathways that reinforce thoughts and behaviors. Practice badly, and that’s how you’ll perform…Your mind will resist change, even if it’s for the better.

Back to me hitting balls against the wall. Dennis sauntered over, watched, then tweaked my form. Each time I hit, he gave me feedback, improving my stance, my turn or my grip. Soon, I heard a satisfying thwack when I hit the ball. I returned it easily and accurately.

“Enough of the wall,” Dennis said, “Go hit with Sarah.” I went and Sarah’s varied shots tested my new form. Plus, she’s a much better conversationalist than the wall. Dennis coached from the sidelines. Each comment he made, each adjustment suggested, wired proper form into my muscle memory.

Fundraising Practice Here are five steps many of my clients practice to improve their fundraising.

1. Thank current donors. You’re probably good at thanking and will gain confidence talking about your cause in this context. One study found almost 20% of donors lapsed because they weren’t thanked well. And the average nonprofit loses 55% of its donors each year! Thank 3-5 stalwart donors each year. The same ones. They’ll develop relationships and get perfect at thanking ‘their’ donors.

2. Engage current donors. If all you do is ask, thank, and ask again, your donors will feel you don’t care about them. Invite each of your 3-5 donors to an event or activity that might interest them. Preferably something free. They’ll learn more about the cause you both care about and you’ll get to know them and why they give better. Practice engaging well.

3. Research your donors. Even if you are friends with your assigned donors, or you’re provided with a well-researched bio, never assume that you are up to date or know what is in their heart. Asking them how they really are (see #2 Engage above) is the best research. Also, a quick google search may reveal they just sold their company or lost their spouse. Practice pre-visit research so you’re well-prepared.

4. Cultivate your prospects in a way that’s best for you. If you’re an extravert, go ahead and schmooze at a big event. If you’re an introvert, invite them to small group or private experiences. For example, if you’re a wetlands champion, invite them to go birding at dawn. Practice cultivating prospective donors in the ways in which you will shine.

5. Ask three donors before one non-donor. By asking those who give regularly you’ll almost certainly get a ‘yes.’ As you get gift after gift, you’ll gain eloquence, clarity and confidence. By the time you ask your first well-researched and cultivated donor, you will have great form and will ace your ask.

Of course, every human interaction is full of delightful imperfections. You don’t have to be perfect. Just work on achieving your best fundraising form until you ace your ask, engage a donor and begin to make the world a better place.

Who is your fundraising coach? We have sports and life coaches, so why not a fundraising coach. They can help improve your form, your results, and make the whole process more enjoyable. I love coaching and have taught thousands of professionals and volunteers to ask more comfortably, authentically and successfully. You’ll find more helpful tips in my book Nonprofit Hero, available on Amazon or free from your local library. Perfect your fundraising form by following my blog, Twitter or Facebook .

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank, (1929-1945) Diary of a Young Girl

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