Fundraising Tips - The Direct Ask

The direct ask is the most effective way to raise funds for your organization because:

  • There’s no need for expensive printing – the donor will rely on you for answers.
  • Donations and pledges can be given immediately.
  • Donor funds can be used where the organization needs them most.
  • Happy donors often give year after year.

Keep in mind:

  • You are offering them an opportunity to contribute significantly to the community.
  • People give to people. Their trust in you equates to their trust in your organization.
  • They can’t say “yes” unless you ask!
  • These tips extend beyond asking individual donors to your requests of sponsors as well as your connections for grants and contracts. All fundraising is people giving to people, no exceptions!

Before reaching out to a potential donor:

  • Make sure your organization is currently doing successful work in the donor’s interest area. If you’re not sure, find out during your initial call to them to set up a meeting.
  • Find out what level of contribution they have given to other organizations.

Preparing for the initial call:

  • If you are raising funds for an urgent campaign, make sure you have the complete campaign plan in front of you (see Campaign Planning at and know the campaign message by heart.
  • If you are raising funds for this year’s budget, have bullet points in front of you regarding your organization’s work plan and successes this year.
  • Also have your organization’s current workplan and budget in front of you so you can answer any questions they might have.
  • Practice describing why you contribute your time and money to your organization so you can demonstrate your own commitment.

The initial call (or perhaps you run into them at the post office...):

  • This is not the place for the funding ask! The only ask you will make here is for them to meet with you (and perhaps another from your org, but no more than two) to discuss their financial support of your organization.
  • Show your appreciation of their interest in your organization and any support they have given to yours or similar efforts in the community.
  • Make sure they know the meeting is to discuss a donation (don’t mention a specific amount at this point) and let them know half an hour should be plenty. This will allow them to prepare for the meeting.
  • Ask them how, where and when they prefer to meet. If they would like to do lunch, expect to pay the entire bill.

At the meeting:

  • Show up on time! A bit early is even better.
  • Keep your presentation under five minutes. Remember, this meeting is about their interests, not yours.
  • You only have half an hour so keep the discussion focused. Ask questions so you can learn their hopes and dreams and how they would like to invest their money in the community.
  • Briefly interject details about your organization’s work that align with their needs, noting areas where funding is needed i.e., “Ah, you are interested in safer streets. We are actually hoping to raise enough money this year to hire a new staff person to coordinate our street redesign projects.” (This of course is in your work plan already.)
  • Repeating part of what they say in your questions and comments, as in the above example, is an important way to show them you are listening.
  • Do not give them anything to read during the meeting. This will only distract them from the discussion.
  • Watch the clock! Make the ask before the half hour is up or, if it’s lunch, well before the check arrives (and remember, you’re paying).

The ask:

  • Note a specific connection discovered during the meeting between their interests and the work of your organization.
  • Make sure this pertains to work your organization is already committed to. Be clear that the money will be used for the organization’s current needs. NEVER create new projects around funder needs! This is called “chasing the money” and has led many an organization to disaster.
  • Include a specific amount, taking into account the research you did on their previous contributions and financial ability.

“Well, I think we’ve found some exciting connections here today. It looks like our organization is addressing many of your needs through our current Safe Routes to Schools program. Could you contribute $5,000 to help us meet our goal this year of adding another school to the program?”

After the ask:

  • DO NOT SAY A WORD! This is perhaps the most critical tip of all. You must let them think. Do not make the mistake of assuming their silence means they are upset. It simply means that you have asked them for a lot of money and they need to run some figures before they can answer. Let them be the next to speak.
  • If they agree, show your gratitude and commit to personally keeping them updated on the progress – note this in your calendar and make sure it gets done.
  • They might also ask to give at a lower level. This is great because you’ll know you didn’t ask for too little. Thank them and commit to keeping them updated.
  • They may write a check right there and then. If not, let them know that you or one of the organization’s staff will send them a letter soon requesting their pledge and noting some of the details from the meeting for their records.
  • They might ask for more specifics in writing before they commit. This is fine, too, because it isn’t a “no.” Ask them for specifics on what they’d like to see in this letter/proposal and take detailed notes. Then, make sure you send this to them as soon as possible after the meeting, starting the letter with your gratitude to them for meeting with you.
  • They might say no. That’s okay. Remember, you’ll never get a “yes” unless you ask and that always comes with some “nos.” Be very gracious, thank them for their time and make sure to offer another way they can contribute – perhaps join a committee, become a member or simply spread the word to their friends. They’ll be feeling far worse than you, so make sure to ease their mind about their decision. If they aren’t a donor today, they can still become one in the future.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note by the next day no matter what their answer was, simply thanking them for the meeting. This is separate from any additional written details they may have requested.

After you receive the donation:

  • Immediately send a professional thank you letter which they can use for their tax deduction records.
  • If yours is a membership organization, make the donor a member with all benefits and communications.
  • In addition to member benefits, make sure to show appreciation for their donation in your other materials and on your web site, where appropriate.
  • As noted above, ensure the donor receives personalized updates on the work they are most interested in.
  • Look for special ways to involve them. Ask their advice. Personally invite them to an event or ribbon cutting that includes their interest.
  • Ask them again next year! If you don’t, they’ll be disappointed, maybe even insulted. Donors want to give – make sure you give them that opportunity by asking!