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How to Ask for Donations (+Tips for Donor Retention)

September 19, 2019

Early in my fundraising career, I confessed to my boss that I had no idea how to ask for donations. He gave me a simple but effective piece of advice: If you don’t ask for money, you won’t get money.

Seems obvious, right? However, I was not the only person who felt this way. From board members to new fundraising staff, dozens of people in the nonprofit sector told me they were uncomfortable asking for donations. No one wants to ask for money, but nonprofits rely on the generosity of donors every year to sustain operations. 

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At its core, fundraising is about relationships. Without them, nonprofits risk appearing desperate and shallow, only approaching donors when they need money. If you have relationships with your donors, you’ve already completed the hard work. And with strong fundraising strategies, you’ll be ready to successfully solicit donors across any channel.

How do you ask for donations in person?

When a prospective donor agrees to a one-on-one, you can safely assume they are interested in learning more about your organization. Ideally, you’ve already engaged with this person via phone or email and have gathered insights to successfully solicit them as a donor. Fundraisers should get in the habit of engaging in person with donors of all levels whenever possible. However, keep in mind that in-person asks will usually be reversed for major gifts. 

To improve your success when asking for donations, consider the following tips.

1. Do your research

You should know important details about your prospects, including giving capacity to current occupation. Donor prospect research software provides important insights into your prospects that help tailor an individualized approach. Check your donor database to see if prospects have volunteered or attended any events. Leverage your board of directors to see if any members have connections.

Beyond that, searching Google to see where prospects have donated in recent years can also be powerful. If a donor appears in annual reports for organizations similar to yours, you know to highlight your organization’s work in a way that resonates with them. 

Curious how technology can improve your donor prospecting? Explore the best donor prospect research software on the market today!

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2. Rehearse the pitch

If you’re new to fundraising, you can only benefit from practicing your donation request. Ask a coworker to listen to your pitch and provide feedback, or record yourself and identify improvement areas. Study your body language by talking in front of a mirror. A little nervousness is understandable, but if you appear too distressed to a donor, they might conflate that experience with your entire organization. Anticipate common questions you may receive and prepare responses.

3. Let them talk

This step is essential for developing strong relationships. Whether from nerves or overconfidence, some fundraisers go into donor meetings with dissertation-length pitches that might not align with the prospect’s interest. Furthermore, no one wants to sit in a long one-sided conversation. Let your donors tell you what they like and don’t like about your organization.

For example, perhaps they support a program because they used to participate in similar programs as a child. By engaging in dialogue with donors, you gain a deeper understanding of their motivations and interests, and they feel more valued as a supporter of your organization. For fundraisers who are more introverted, this tactic eliminates the pressure to fill time with nonstop talking. Also, be sure to track these conversations in your donor management software to reference in the future.

Looking for a donor management software that fits your nonprofit needs? Check out real reviews from users like you.

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4. Be transparent and authentic

If you aren’t excited about your organization’s work, don’t expect a prospective donor to be either. One-on-one meetings with prospective donors (and renewing donors) are fantastic opportunities to talk about your organization’s current progress, upcoming events, and new initiatives. Be sure to exercise restraint when referring to your organization’s programs.

It may seem natural to apply everything a donor says to something your organization does, but if you overdo it, you convey to the donor that you just want their money. Strategically acknowledge your organization’s challenges. Inform prospects about potential opportunities for their gift. Be specific about where their money could go. Avoid asking donors to give “whatever they can” to support your cause; have a specific dollar amount in mind, informed by insights gained from your donor research.

5. Utilize print and digital materials

Bring organizational materials to help potential donors visualize your cause. Print materials such as annual reports or program brochures provide basic information and offer insight into your organization’s overall operations. These materials are great for people who struggle to pay attention during long periods of talking.

If you have any promotional or testimonial videos to appeal to your prospect’s emotions, you should utilize those when possible. Make sure your prospect leaves the meeting with a cultivation folder of print materials, as well as business cards for your development director and executive director.

6. Respect their capacity

Listen to donors when they say what they can afford to give. While it’s disappointing to receive a lower gift than planned, you don’t want to damage a relationship by continuing to persuade or insist on a larger gift. Be gracious for any amount a donor is willing to contribute.

You can try to leverage a monthly giving plan to achieve higher giving across a longer time span. These monthly giving plans are a smart way to entice younger donors to commit to a larger gift that will make them a leadership donor. Asking for $1,000 outright may be difficult;  however, asking for $84 every month over a year seems more doable.

How do you ask for donations in digital formats?

While meeting every potential donor face to face would be ideal, you will realistically need to employ methods to ask for donations through digital channels.

1. Email

Email is a great tool to use for a specific fundraising campaign, such as Giving Tuesday or matching a grant awarded to your organization. Fundraising emails should be efficient and have short, catchy headlines.

Think about how quickly you lose interest when receiving long emails, and model your email campaign to do the opposite. Additionally, all email communications your organization sends should include a link to donate at the bottom.

2. Mail appeal

Some organizations do a summer and winter appeal, while others do one every season. Whichever you choose, your organization’s mail appeals should be personalized to every relevant donor grouping. Prospective donors and lapsed donors should receive a different letter than individuals who donated recently.

Appeal letters should have parallels to the language used in accompanying emails. Keep the letter short (only two to three paragraphs), restate your mission and your work, identify the urgency, and tell your recipients how important their donation is. If possible, offer examples of what a donation provides  (for example, $100 will provide 400 meals for children). 

3. Social media

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are gaining traction as powerful fundraising tools in a nonprofit’s arsenal. A Facebook fundraiser rallies your supporters to donate and share your posts, becoming peer-to-peer fundraisers for your organization.

Social media fundraisers augment your overarching fundraising campaign, so align the messaging with your email and mail components. Set a goal and convey your organization’s need in two to three sentences. Use photos from programs and events throughout the year and post them on Instagram and other social media to create visual connections to your organization’s work.

Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter rely on social media to boost their efficacy.

Related: Learn how GoFundMe works so you can decide if it's right for your fundraising campaign. 

Crowdfunding is a legitimate option for nonprofits looking to add some extra oomph to their fundraising campaign. In addition to traditional donation forms and email campaigns, some fundraising software offer crowdfunding creation and integration.

Ready to learn more? Discover the best digital fundraising tips for 2019.

Get more tips to boost your fundraising →

People donate because they want to support a cause and feel good. However you choose to ask for the donation, be sure to connect a donor’s passion and interest with the impact of your organization’s work. 

How do you retain donors?

So, you’ve successfully asked for donations and need to ensure those donors renew their gift. As with any relationship, you must nurture it. Findings from The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019 show that returning donors give more money based on how engaged they are with your organization. Donors want to feel engaged with your organization beyond a transaction; if you fail to invest in donor retention activities, you will see those donors walk away. 

Here are four examples of donor retention activities:

1. Newsletters

Monthly or quarterly newsletters are a great way to regularly update supporters about organization activities and success, as well as highlighting upcoming events. You can include photos of programming and interviews of participants or staff members, as they deepen supporters’ emotional investment in your work and validate their donation. You may even interview long-time donors to hear why they continue to support your organization.

2. Personalized thank-you’s 

Gratitude should be second nature to any fundraiser. Always, always, always be grateful, and never shy away from expressing that. Donors should receive a personalized thank-you letter as soon as possible after making a donation. As a general rule, aim to mail a thank-you letter within 24–48 hours, or same day for an email thank-you. As you deepen relationships with donors, you can opt to call and thank them for their gift. Make sure you update your organization’s acknowledgment letter template regularly. The letter can promote upcoming events, as well as statistics for your programs after closing a fiscal year.

3. Program shadowing

In alignment with gratitude, opportunities to shadow programs give your valued donors a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into program operations for your organization. Donors share the program experience with participants and see how an impact is made, and may have the chance to speak directly with participants. These personalized touches offer exclusive engagement opportunities that a lot of donors cherish, and a positive shadowing experience ensures you receive a renewed gift from those donors.

4. Tiered donor groups

Donors like to feel special. By creating exclusive donor groups based on giving level, your nonprofit creates a faux reward system for donors with higher capacity. Each nonprofit will have a unique name for this, such as Leadership Donors, but the principle is the same. You can offer exclusive events to these donors to honor their financial commitment to your organization.

For example, museums may allow their higher level donors to see exhibits before they open to the public. Tiered donor groups should be well thought-out and executed, with marketing materials and clear structure established before roll out.

Asking for donations is easy

Understandably, fundraisers overthink how to ask for donations. The pressure to secure gifts and meet year-end revenue goal is intense. However, if you build relationships with your donors, you should have no problem asking for that gift when the time comes. The real work begins after you secure that donation. So, get to asking.

Learn more about fundraising plans →

How to Ask for Donations (+Tips for Donor Retention) For new fundraisers, figuring out how to ask for donations can seem daunting and uncomfortable. These easy tips will make securing your next gift simple.
Dominick Duda Dominick is a Senior Research Analyst at G2 specializing in nonprofit software, with other vertical industry coverage including healthcare, government, and hospitality. Prior to joining G2, he spent years in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser and grant writer, and he is deeply invested in understanding how nonprofits can make better use of the technology available to them. In his free time, he enjoys video games, museums, and reading and writing poetry.

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