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4 min read

Take the Ick out of the Ask: Seven Tips for Fundraising Conversations

Take the Ick out of the Ask: Seven Tips for Fundraising Conversations

A guest post by Kel Haney, Senior Consultant at Donorly. Explore how to craft your fundraising conversations to be as successful as possible while also connecting potential donors to your organization with interactions that are genuine, positive, (and even enjoyable!) for both of you.

1. Focus on the Forest instead of the Trees

I encourage fundraisers to always focus on developing a long term relationship with your community members*, as opposed to being focused on a one-time Ask. If you develop a long-term relationship with the community member, their relationship to your organization may ebb and flow through their lifetime: for instance, a person who purchases discount tickets in their 20s and 30s could very likely become a donor in their 40s and 50s. This same person may scale back down to discount ticket purchases in retirement or, depending on their personal circumstances, they may increase their level of giving and possibly include your organization in their legacy planning. The key to developing these relationships is creating touch points with your community members (and I encourage using phone conversations as part of this outreach).

* You’ll notice that I refer to the individuals with whom your organization engages as ‘community members’ - you may refer to these individuals as audience members, donors, subscribers, or clients. I choose to use the phrase ‘community members’ because my fundraising consulting focusses on cultivating individual relationships toward a larger goal of community building. 


2. Develop a Cadence for your Communication

I think of 'touch points' as all forms of communication your organization shares with your community. This includes communication on the broad scale (email blasts, newsletters, social media posts, mass produced mailing campaigns…) as well as individual, one to one outreach (personal invitations to events, in-person interactions at events, follow-up thank you notes, and individual fundraising asks in person, or on the phone or via email).

Build out a timeline of when these 'touch points' will occur throughout the year and how they can complement each other. For instance, during your End of Year fundraiser, you could plan for an e-newsletter blast* to reach your community members near the beginning of November: that e-newsletter could include some of your latest news and/or an ‘offering’ to your community (examples: a link to a behind the scenes video or an interview with an artist). After your email blast, you could plan for a letter appeal to reach mailboxes the last week of November, and then make a personalized phone call in mid-December.

That phone conversation may start something like this: “While we’ve reached out by both email and a letter in the mail, I wanted to get in touch personally because we’re wrapping up our End of Year Fundraiser and we’d love for you to be involved.”

* Always include a link to donate on any email, even if the correspondence is occurring outside of your traditional ‘fundraising season’ and/or the reason for corresponding is something other than a fundraising solicitation. You never know who in your community wants to give and when they want to donate: always give them the opportunity!

Also, make sure your Donate buttons are easy to locate and that the system for making a donation is as simple and frictionless as possible.


3. Curiosity is Key

One fundraising 'super-power' is cultivating curiosity - and I believe we are all capable of engaging with audience members from a place of genuine curiosity. I encourage you to use active, open-ended questions to get to know your community members. Here are some examples:

  • What was their last experience with your organization like?
  • Who joins them at your events?
  • How can your organization better support their needs/interests?
  • What led to them engaging with your org in the first place?

The more genuinely curious you are about the community member, the easier, quicker, and more natural the connection between you will be.

4. Keep meticulous notes (and make them available to the rest of your team!)

Through these one to one interactions, not only will you be relationship building, you’ll also learn details about your community members that you won’t learn any other way. It’s amazing how candid and open individuals can be with each other during one to one interactions!

Here are some examples:

  • You work for a theatre company and you learn that the community member is an avid theatre goer and attends shows roughly five times a week
  • You work for a dance company and you learn that the community member’s grandmother was a famous dancer.

This is all qualitative research leading to better relationships with your community members, and I suggest that you document these pieces of information in your CRM.


5. Craft every Interaction into an Event*

It’s extremely effective (and fun!) to craft every fundraising interaction into an Event, and I encourage you to share your organization’s circumstances with the community member - what’s happening right now that can inspire this community member to get more involved with your organization during each interaction?

  • If you have a virtual/in-person engagement coming up soon, definitely encourage the community member to join!
  • If you're currently starting, in the middle of, or wrapping up a fundraising campaign, it’s helpful to present that moment as an exciting time for the community member to offer support.
  • Community members love hearing about specific numbers (I know this may be difficult to believe!). Feel free to share how much money you're hoping to raise on this campaign, how far you are from that goal right now, what’s the next milestone you’re hoping to reach, etc. The more specific you can be about why the community member should donate right now, the more effective your Ask will be.

* One great tool to crafting your Ask as an event is a ‘Matching’ or ‘Challenge’ Grant. It’s a superb way to connect individuals who can give at various price points: when you have a Match/Challenge, you can encourage an audience member to expand their involvement with your organization because their gift will be exponentially impactful.


6. Determine what feels like a 'Good Stretch' for your Ask

My personal yoga practice has inspired me to encourage the fundraisers I coach to explore what feels like a 'good stretch' vs. a 'bad stretch'. If you, as the fundraiser, feel like you are making an Ask that feels a little (but not too much!) out of the comfort zone of both you and the community member, hopefully you are both staying within the realm of a ‘good stretch.’ Ideally, in that sweet spot, we are challenging ourselves and our community members, but also avoiding 'the Ick'.

To determine where in the spectrum a ‘good stretch’ is located, look at this community member’s history of involvement with your organization and where your organization’s current levels of engagement are set.


7. Include your entire organization in the fundraising conversation

I firmly believe that fundraising affects all aspects of your organization. Developing messaging for your fundraising conversations is an opportunity to look at the overall mission, purpose, messaging and branding of your organization. Fundraising conversations include not just the fundraising department, but also marketing, customer service, audience outreach and more.

Through the success of our fundraising conversations, we can inspire entire organizations to become more comfortable with community-focused fundraising.



Find out more about using Spektrix fundraising technology to build closer relationships with your audiences.


Kel Haney is Senior Consultant at Donorly