Ace the Ask in 5 Easy Steps

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

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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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Always have a backup

Take-away: Be prepared for the unpredictable by having something else up your sleeve just in case.


Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for weekly motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.

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15 reasons why people give- hint tax deduction’s are not #1!

Discover what really motivates donors.


Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for weekly motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.


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Look Up for Inspired Fundraising

Take-away: Invigorate your storytelling by revisiting your nonprofit’s origins.

I wended my way along Broad Street, texting fundraising assignments and answering emails, avoiding pedestrian collisions by a hairsbreadth.

A single snowflake melted on my screen. Then another, and another. I looked up. A scattering of white flecks sparkled in the sunshine. Magic.

As I gazed skyward, I noticed a different, older city above me. Greek columns graced the tops of some buildings. Others were capped with Art Deco or Egyptian patterns. It was as if these buildings were designed for ground level, then shot up 20 stories, leaving their beauty stranded, a rarely-glimpsed memory.


The crowd jostled, looking down, ahead, around, but never up. Surprised by this revelation, I wandered on, head tilted back, marveling at Philadelphia’s eclectic mix of historic buildings. They comforted me.


The echoes of the past reassure us and provide a context for understanding new ideas and inventions. Architects mine the past for inspiration and so can you.

Imagine you’re about to ask for donation. But you’re stumped. Tongue-tied. Unsure. What can you say that hasn’t been said before? How can you talk about your cause in a way that will excite a gift?

Look to the past, especially if your nonprofit’s old. Dig, and chances are you’ll hit gold.

For example, I was preparing to ask a friend to support the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Casting about, I wondered about its founder, William Wagner, an 1800’s merchant who collected specimens on his far-flung trading voyages. I researched his travels, reading about and viewing historic paintings of the places he visited. I imagined him sweltering in Port au Prince, Haiti.  Astride an ice-slick deck in the Antarctic. Inhaling the acid reek of island guano. Savoring Chinese dishes exploding with spices worth a fortune.

That sense of adventure fueled my plea for the Wagner’s hands-on science lessons. I explained that these children should and could experience the thrill of discovery for themselves.

Plowing through everyday tasks, peering at screens and caroming from meeting to meeting can sap your eloquence. If you want to make your case with renewed vigor, try voyaging into the past.

And next time you’re in Center City Philly, look up!

“Study the past if you would define the future”- Confucius

Find more fundraising tips in my book, Nonprofit Hero, available on Amazon, and in my blog, Twitter and Facebook pages.


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Free? Doesn’t always take money to raise money

Take-away: use LinkedIn to identify corporate donors and tell your personal story about your nonprofit not a scripted elevator speech.



Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for weekly motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.




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What are your Activation Energy Barriers to fundraising?

Take-away: Identify your fundraising weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Buzz, buzz, buzz… BAM!

Snakelike, you strike, slamming the snooze button.

Buzz, buzz, buzz… BAM!  You hit snooze again. It’s Monday, your room’s frigid and it’s toasty under your quilt.

You, my friend, have a serious Activation Energy Barrier (AEB).

Fundraising and your morning struggle are both hard, but why? Chemists call it an Activation Energy Barrier, the burst of energy required to jump-start a process, whether it’s photosynthesis or igniting a fire. In fundraising, I call this your Yeah, buts, as inYeah, I’d like to get a lot of money for my nonprofit, but

We develop strategies to lower our morning barriers, such as laying clothes out the night before, and for overcoming barriers, such as coffeemakers programmed to awaken us with the seductive scent of java.

Your “Yeah, But” Barrier Score

Similarly, you can develop strategies to lower or overcome your barriers to fundraising. But first, you must know what those barriers are. Try this little exercise.

Close your eyes. Call to mind someone who could donate $1,000. Imagine you’re about to ask them for a gift.  How do you feel? What are you afraid of? What’s stopping you? Here’s a list of common “Yeah, buts…” Check all that apply:

  1. ___ They’ll feel like I’m using our friendship to get money.
  2. ___ They won’t like me, they’ll reject me
  3. ___ I/they will be embarrassed
  4. ___ I don’t want the donor to feel uncomfortable/awkward
  5. ___ I don’t know how much to request/if they can afford it
  6. ___ They’ll say no or I’ll fail
  7. ___ I don’t know what to say/don’t have enough information/need a plan
  8. ___ I don’t know how to ask
  9. ___ They won’t see how important the cause is
  10. ___ Other(s): ____________________________________________________________________________

The more Yeah, buts… you have, the higher your score. If you checked only one or two, you can probably overcome them by using my five-step method (see below). If you checked all nine and listed one or more besides, you’re a 10, and may be unable to ask at all.

If you’re fearless, if you checked none of the above, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this blog and go ask for a gift!

Understanding your fundraising “Yeah, buts”

The good news is, I don’t want you to ask your friends to give if you think you’ll alienate them. I don’t want you to ask if you don’t know how much to request, if you don’t know what to say nor if you have reason to believe they’ll turn you down.

Who in their right mind would do that?

I want to show you how the flip side of your fear is often your asking strength. Playing to your strengths, you can overcome your fears. For example, if you checked # 1-4 above, you probably have great social skills, like my friend Lara, a therapist. Rather than asking directly, you might facilitate a conversation between your donor friend and your nonprofit’s CEO that results in a gift!  Everyone is different. Discover your Asking Personality to learn who, where, when, how you should ask, and how you can do so in ways at which you’ll excel.

You can lower your barriers by using my signature five-step method, which starts with thanking, not asking, proceeding through the steps so by the time you get to the last step, asking, you’re practically guaranteed a “Yes!”

You can learn more about my five-step method and discover your Asking Personality, in my book Nonprofit Hero, Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising, available on Amazon, or for free by request from your local library.

Ignite the spark that will overcome your fundraising activation energy barriers.

“When a log that has only just started to burn is placed next to one that is burning fiercely … the first log will be burning with much greater intensity.”                                                                                                                                                                               -Eckhart Tolle

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Why Board Members Hate Fundraising and How to Change It


Learn to set your board up for fundraising success in under 3 minutes! Also if you want to learn how to become a Nonprofit Hero yourself, make sure to check out my book Nonprofit Hero: Five Easy Steps for Successful Board Fundraising!




Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for daily motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.


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What Makes a Great Fundraiser?

Take-away: The most successful fundraisers are crystal clear about what they want. Find your passion, your personal mission in life…and ask!

Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for daily motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.

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What’s your Best Step in the Fundraising Process?

Take-away: 90% of fundraising has nothing to do with asking; it is a process requiring various roles, skills and personalities. Cast yourself for success!

Don’t forget to book your Nonprofit Hero Talk and Training!


Follow @ValJFundrasing on Twitter for daily motivation, NPO job postings, and local fundraising events.

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The T-Shirt Folding Fundraising Leadership Test

Take-away: Don’t overlook introverts when hiring your next development director.


“You have the fundraising gene.”

I get that a lot from friends and acquaintances. What they mean is, “You’re extraverted, outgoing and not afraid to ask.”

They’re wrong.

I am an extravert, but my confidence and skill come from decades of professional experience. When I started my career, I was so scared I had to smoke a cigarette before I could summon up the courage to get on the phone to ask someone to volunteer. Not to give. Just to volunteer.

I know. Cigarettes in the office. This was decades ago.

Continue reading The T-Shirt Folding Fundraising Leadership Test

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