Show up ready for “Yes!”

Take-away: Do a self-scan before asking, and get happy so you show up anticipating a “Yes!” not bracing yourself for “No.”


You’re about to ask for a major gift. Your donor’s been thanked for their past giving and kept involved. You know about their family, their interests and their philanthropy. You have a project they’ll love at a cost they can afford. It’s time to ask, right?

Wrong. You’ve left the most important thing of all off your checklist.

Your state of mind. How are you feeling? If you’re tired or discouraged, you may sabotage your efforts. “They’ll hate this idea,” your inner voice whispers. “It’s too much money. I wish I didn’t have to do this. I look awful in this suit.” Don’t ignore your downhearted-self. Be kind to it.

Stop. Get happy. Then show up as the person ready to hear “Yes!” not the one expecting a “No.”

“How am I supposed to get happy?” you ask, and “Are happy people more successful askers?”

Yes, and yes.

Shawn Achor, author of New York Times Bestseller, The Happiness Advantage and one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers has demonstrated there’s a science to happiness, that it improves achievement in work and in life. His research identifies the following simple, free and proven ways to get happy:

1. Count your blessings-Write down one thing that happened in the last 24 hours for which you’re grateful. Do it every day. The 24-hour rule forces you to reflect on something new each time.

2. Journal meaning: It’s hard to be happy if you find your life meaningless. Start seeking meaning, and you’ll find it… in a cloud that reminds you of childhood, in the smell of new-mown grass, in your partner’s glance when you share a joke. We too often miss these moments. Write down one such experience every day, and you’ll become a happier person.

3. Perform a kindness with no expectation of return: I mentor younger colleagues, pick up trash when I take a walk and let stressed drivers precede me. If you start looking, you’ll discover opportunities to commit random acts of kindness. I find secret virtue yields an exquisite kind of happiness.

4. Meditate: If you are trained in meditation, do so regularly, and before you ask. If you don’t know how, just sit in a quiet space and watch your breath go in and out for two minutes. You can calm yourself when anxious. Meditate regularly and you’ll be happier, gain a sense of perspective and become more resilient.

5. FAB 15: Take a walk or exercise any way you like for 15 minutes. Take a walk in the fresh air, under a starry sky or on a city street full of fascinating people will make you happier. Working out seriously is best, but you don’t need to suit up or go to the gym. Just take a walk.

You may develop your own happiness rituals. I look at pictures of my children before tackling grant proposals and envision individual donors saying “Yes!” in twenty different ways. Whatever you do, stop and take a minute to see how you’re doing before asking.

Check out Shawn’s TED Talk,, and get happy!

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Ask donors who will say yes: The top 15 reasons why people give

Take-away: Ask those close to you before reaching out to big name funders with no connection.



You wouldn’t ask Bill Gates to cover your hospital bill…would you? If you needed financial help, you’d ask a family member or a close friend first. Charity begins at home. The same principle applies to fundraising. It’s the people around you, those already engaged or invested in your nonprofit who will give. Finding support for your organization should start from the center out, from those who know you best, to those who know you least.

Yet too often, we dream of a sugar daddy, a miraculous cure-all for our organization’s financial woes. “One big check from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could solve all of our problems,” we muse. Volunteer board members see a name in the Wall Street Journal or on TV and think these celebrities are the answer to all of their nonprofit’s challenges.

However, soliciting support from big name funders with no connection is more likely to burn your staff out than to fill your coffers. Instead, deepen your relationships with donors who already know you. If you apply to a national foundation, it’s not unusual for them to vet your nonprofit through local funders. If your hometown foundations aren’t supporting you, it raises red flags for national funders. Conversely, if local funders say your organization is the best thing since sliced bread, national funders will be more interested in reading your proposal.

Whether you’re asking individuals, foundations, or corporations, get to know those in your community who care the most. Build your home-base. Strong community engagement will increase your influence and visibility, helping larger institutions to see your worth and increasing the likelihood that they will support you.

Why Individuals Give

What about individuals? The #1 reason people give is because someone they know asks them, and they want to help that person. If you start by asking those you know, you may find the list is so long, you never get around to asking strangers! Here’s why people give, with the reasons ranked from most to least compelling:

  1. Someone I know asked me to give, and I wanted to help them.
  2. I felt emotionally moved by someone’s story.
  3. I want to feel I can help, rather than feeling powerless in the face of need (especially in the case of disasters).
  4. I want to feel I’m changing someone’s life.
  5. I feel a sense of closeness to a community or group.
  6. I need a tax deduction.
  7. I want to memorialize someone (i.e., who died of a disease or a beloved parent).
  8. I was raised to give to charity- it’s tradition in my family.
  9. I want to be “hip”. Supporting this charity is in style (i.e., colored wrist bands).
  10. It makes me feel connected to other people and builds my social network.
  11. I want to have a good image for myself/my company.
  12. I want to leave a legacy that perpetuates myself, my ideals, or my cause.
  13. I feel fortunate (or guilty) and want to give something back to others.
  14. I give for religious reasons- God wants me to share my affluence.
  15. I want to be seen as a leader/role model.

Ask for gifts that satisfy donors’ desires. Some folks are motivated by just one or two reasons, others by many. Notice that a tax deduction is only sixth on the list. Most people give from the goodness of their hearts.

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Are you a fundraising criminal?

Take-away: Be sure that you are registered to fundraise before you start!

In the last 24 hours, several folks have approached me who thought they could ask for money in Pennsylvania, but couldn’t. Why? They’re not registered with the PA Bureau of Charitable Organizations. How do I know? Because it’s public. Anyone, including donors and foundations, can look them up.

Go ahead. See if you’re registered.

(Note: there’s 1 button to search Charities, another for Solicitors/Fundraising Counsel)

If you’re not registered, you should be, because the consequences can be severe. Counsel can incur steep financial fines. Nonprofits can be fined, publicly listed as violators and even forced to “cease and desist” from fundraising in Pennsylvania. Who are the 700+ violators? Here:
Some violations occurred as far back as 1996…more than 20 years ago! Once you’re on this list, you’re on it forever. You do not want to be on this list. And it’s not just Pennsylvania. If you’re asking residents in 10 states for gifts, you have to register in all 10 states, if their law requires it.

To add to the fun, PA indicates “purely charitable organizations” and some other categories are exempt, but doesn’t list those categories or explain what the phrase means.

But there is hope. Every year, in June, Giving USA announces the latest fundraising trends, and releases their guide to state registration requirements. Because, of course, the rules are different in every state and they change over time. Last time I checked, Delaware didn’t require registration, but they may now. Also, there are companies that will handle the multiple state registration process for you such as Affinity Fundraising Registration:

Here are the examples I encountered. If any of them sound familiar, check your status:

  • A small nonprofit thinks they’re ok because they have a 501 c 3 letter from the IRS (Wrong).
  • A big consulting firm thinks it can do business with PA clients without registering (Wrong).
  • A development consultant contracted for work without registering it. (Wrong! Not only must both the nonprofit and the consultant be registered annually, each contract must be approved and registered with the state before work commences.)
  • Most free-lance grant writers think they don’t have to register at all. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Don’t let yourself be permanently inscribed on the state’s “naughty” list. Get yourself registered, and make sure you’re registered annually. These regulations exist to protect nonprofits and the public from scam artists and fake nonprofits. Registration protects all of us and increases the public’s confidence that we are, in fact, worthy of support.

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Boost your nonprofit board’s fundraising with LinkedIn

Take-away: Board Members who LinkIn with staff and each other can raise $ without even asking.

“Who do you know?”

Most of us don’t know who we know. Not really. How would you know that your neighbor’s brother works for the Ford Foundation? Or that your tennis partner’s wife handles sponsorship for Wawa? We can’t introduce our nonprofits to connections we don’t know we have.

Actually, you can.

That’s the beauty of LinkedIn. Type in someone’s name or that of a company, and you can see if and how you’re connected. It’s fast, easy, free and available 24/7. Sadly, it doesn’t occur to some board members to LinkIn with each other, much less with senior staff.

Please do it. Please do it now. Because LinkingIn can increase funding in three important ways:

  1. Identify new prospects: I was looking for prospective donors for a small dance company, and finding surprisingly few. So I typed, “dance” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search keyword field. Several names popped up, including that of a well-heeled lawyer at a nearby firm. As I scrolled through her profile, I saw dance, listed under Causes she cares about. A board member already knew her, but before my LinkedIn search, had no idea she loved dance.
  2. Find connections to identified prospects: Working for a museum, I LinkedIn with their board, senior staff and several docents. The development team had identified a couple who’d never been through our doors. On LinkedIn, I found they were connected to one of our docents. She invited them for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of an exhibit they’d like. They came, were delighted by the exhibit, the museum and her infectious enthusiasm, and plan to come back soon.
  3. Get info to tailor your proposal: We knew the right car dealership to sponsor the zoo, but no one knew the owner. I found I had only one automotive connection on LinkedIn…my mechanic! I called, forlornly hoping he might know someone who knew someone. He laughed and said, “Actually, I dated the owner’s daughter in high school!”  He said she headed the marketing department. Guided by him, I revised our proposal and pitched it to his amused ex-girlfriend.

Never a cold call!

There’s no need to make cold calls. I’ve raised $100+ million building relationships to undiscovered friends. Encourage your board to find their own hidden donors by connecting on social media.

Who knows? Someday a friendly mechanic may help you get a big grant!



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Give your donor a target, not indigestion

Take-away: Asking for specific gift amounts reduces anxiety, is more fun and gets bigger gifts.

Here’s a recipe for heartburn. You dine at a restaurant where the waiter can choose to slip you a bill for $10…or $10,000. You find an outfit you love … in a shop without price tags. Most of us want to know how much things cost and fear, “if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”

Yet, with the best of intentions, you may put a donor in this anxiety-ridden no-man’s land. To avoid putting her in an awkward position or pressuring her, you say, “Just give what you can,” or, “Could you give a bit more than before?” or, worst of all, “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”

DONOR: Hearing this, she thinks, OMG, did I give? How much? Was it $200? $1,000? …

It’s almost impossible for her to feel simultaneously generous and anxious. So she prevaricates, saying “I’m not sure, things have been a bit tight lately, I need to talk to my husband.” Or, she makes a low gift of $200, just to be safe. You leave with a smaller gift than last year or no gift at all.

Here’s an alternative. You’ve done your homework, know her interests and how much she gives to your nonprofit and others. You tell her (briefly) why you care and what inspires you to support this cause. You ask her about her own connection, thank her and provide a framework for discussion:

YOU: “Thank you so much for your donation of $500 last year. You helped provide lunch for 30 underserved summer camp kids. They loved the cooking lessons, and learned to make delicious, inexpensive and healthy meals, which I hope you’ll come taste for yourself. Would you consider making a gift of $1,000 so we can expand the program this year?”

Asking for a specific gift amount is less stressful, statistically yields larger gifts and is flattering, as it shows you’ve taken the time to learn about her and that you appreciate her past generosity.

The #1 reason people give is because of who asked them, not for a tax deduction or to see their name in a program. Whatever the response, asking is a wonderful way to get to know a donor and to engage her more deeply in your cause. Without you, she might not have given at all.

After all, how many reminders do you need to write that annual check to your alma mater?


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Teaching your board to ask, Don’t put your toddler on a Harley

Take-away: For practice and confidence, ask donors for gifts before asking prospects.

toddler on harley_original

Image by CindysArt, via

Asking a new board member to solicit non-donors is like teaching a kid to ride a bike by putting her on a Harley. Not a good idea. Yet that’s just about what we do in fundraising. We tell new board members, “You don’t have to ask our donors; they’re already giving! We need you to bring in fresh blood, new donors.”
Subtext: “Get strangers to give us money.”
You’re afraid it will be awkward, because your friends and associates don’t yet know/care about your nonprofit. Or that it will be uncomfortable, because they may feel you’re using them. Worse, even if they do give when you ask them this time, unless you get them involved in the interim, they probably won’t give next year. So you’ll be back where you started. Except you may feel tongue-tied with some friends, family and colleagues.
Are you squirming yet?
The Golden Ask method of fundraising does just the opposite. I begin by assigning board members to solicit those who are already giving and almost certain to say “Yes!” Sometimes I even have board members solicit each other. This is great practice, because they know they’ll be asking their partner in turn, and become proactively generous as a result. I then assign novice solicitors to ask 2-3 current donors, one after another. After several successful visits, they are thrilled with getting big gifts. These board members are convinced they’re darned good fundraisers. And you know what? They’re right!


Asking donors before you ask prospects has several additional advantages.
1. Donors are your best prospects. It’s easier to get current donors to renew, perhaps even increase, their gift than it is to get someone who’s never contributed to give for the first time. So you raise more money asking donors than you do asking prospects.

2. They deserve it. Taking time to meet with your donors tells them they’re important to you. Remember, there’s no rule saying that because Ms. X has given you $100/year for the last ten years she’s got to do it again. Don’t make the mistake of losing her by taking her for granted.

3. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn about your donors’ backgrounds and what drew them to your cause. They may share happy news… congratulate them! They may share bad news or challenging situations, including financial ones. Empathize. Assure them they’re valued partners, not just ATMs. Hold onto these people and you may find they become tremendous champions.
Give your board some fundraising training wheels before they have to make the more difficult asks. It doesn’t mean they won’t bring new donors into the fold later. They’ll just be much better at it when they do.

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