In fundraising circles, it’s known as “the ask”—that moment when you ask someone to make a donation. The ask typically happens at three main points in the crowdfunding process.
The first ask is made to your (or your group’s) most inner circle of friends and family. This happens after you’ve posted your fundraiser, but before you’ve shared it widely. It’s an important step in the process, because people are more likely to donate when they see that others have already donated—and the most likely people to donate are in your inner circle.
The second ask happens when you share your fundraiser with everyone, everywhere—on social media, in person, at events, etc. But after a few weeks or even days, you could see your fundraiser stall. Don’t panic—that’s part of the process.
The third ask happens when you go back to friends, colleagues, and other people you know, and ask them one last time to make a donation.
Each of these moments requires a specific approach and language. We’ve put together some tips to teach you how to ask for donations in a range of situations.
Our tips on how to ask for donations
1. Remember to tell your story
Not everyone you ask knows your story. Whether you’re reaching out through email or asking in person, remember to tell your story, and tell it well. If you have a longer story that contains many details, in your initial request keep it concise and simple (think “elevator pitch”). Encourage potential donors to visit your GoFundMe fundraiser page to get the full story—and to become part of it with their donation.
To learn more about storytelling, take a look at our storytelling tips.
2. Tailor your message to the moment
The best way to receive a positive response—and a donation—is to appeal to each person’s individual interests, keeping personalities in mind. If you know a donor would respond better to a warm, lighthearted email, keep your wording informal and bright. For another donor who would respond better to a formal approach, deliver your message accordingly.
And if you’re raising money for a nonprofit organization, remember to emphasize the tax benefits of making a donation to your cause.
Get more tips on writing a fundraising cover letter.
3. Explain what will happen if they don’t donate
Darren Binder, the founder of City Dogs Rescue, says it’s important to convey a sense of urgency when sharing your fundraiser. Without that urgency, your potential donors may consider waiting to donate—requiring you to ask them again down the line. Explain what will happen if you don’t succeed in your crowdfunding efforts, and you’ll likely see a spike in donations. Keep in mind that even negative consequences can still be framed in a positive light. Public radio stations do this well, saying things like, “If this is valuable to you…” or “If you’d like to keep receiving these many benefits…” Follow their lead in keeping things urgent yet positive.
4. Keep a positive attitude and expect people to donate
Don’t be discouraged by the people who turn you down at first. Remember that people have widely differing priorities with their finances and their cash flow. You can’t know when people will offer support, so keep your chin up and persevere.
5. Start the relationship and strengthen it
Does your cause address an ongoing need, or is it a one-time thing? If ongoing, you need to view a donation as the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the donor. Whether your cause is short- or long-term, donors should feel like they’re part of your fundraiser, part of the unfolding story. Stay in touch—updates and thank-yous are key here. The worst-case scenario is that donors hear from you only when you’re asking for donations.
Pitfalls to avoid when asking for donations
You might be nervous about asking for donations, or being too demanding. Don’t worry—even seasoned fundraisers still get nervous every once in a while. Asking for donations can be made easier by using a mental checklist and practicing your approach.
Here are a few pitfalls we’ve seen people make when asking for donations, and how you can avoid them.
1. Not knowing what you’re asking for, or being vague about it
It’s important to have defined goals when you set out to ask for donations. Are you raising money for medical expenses? If so, list the expenses you need help paying for. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in thinking about how you’re going to ask for donations that you forget to clearly communicate exactly what you’re asking for. Make sure your objectives are clear. State them near the top of your fundraising page, and in any donation request letters.
2. Being overly formal
While you could ask organizations to donate to your fundraiser, the majority of your potential donors will likely be real people who know you (or the beneficiary) personally. So, there’s no need to be overly formal—in fact, it’s counterproductive, because it creates distance and makes people feel awkward. Be warm, genuine, and human, and donors are likely to respond in kind.
3. Not knowing who you’re asking
When you ask for donations, don’t just focus on the need. Think also about who you’re asking, and what their understanding and needs might be. For example, when approaching a potential donor, ask yourself:
- Why does this person care? There is a reason you reached out to him or her for donations. Keep that reason in mind, and communicate it when you approach each potential donor.
- What relationship does this person have to the beneficiary? Maybe she was childhood friends with the beneficiary, or maybe a neighbor. It’s appropriate to bring up this relationship when asking for donations to create a more personal, intimate communication, and help boost your chances for success.
- Why would they have reservations? Keep in mind reasons someone might not want to donate, and try to address them if possible. For example, some people may worry they can’t afford to make a large enough donation to make a difference. By addressing this concern and listing specific expenses that can be paid with small donations, you can get more people to contribute.
4. Being scared of rejection
You won’t get a donation from every person you ask, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that you did a bad job of fundraising, or that the people you asked are terrible people—sometimes people get distracted. Understanding this, politely follow up with anyone who didn’t donate the first time you reached out.
5. Being inauthentic
Use all the tools available to you—words, pictures, video, prizes, themed donation parties—the possibilities are nearly endless. Giving your fundraiser personality and vibrancy can make a world of difference to your results.
6. Being too vague
This pitfall applies to almost every aspect of your fundraiser, from description to donation requests. People are deluged with information. Vagueness doesn’t grab anyone’s attention—specificity does. Clearly state why you’re fundraising, what the current situation is, and what the desired outcome will be.
Be specific in your list of expenses as well. Some successful fundraisers itemize every expense—not just a big-ticket item like a surgery, but the gas money needed for rides to the doctor, etc. Potential donors will appreciate transparency.
Now you’re asking for it—get the donations you need
Above all, remember that people love to help other people—it’s innate in all of us. When you ask for donations, you’re simply tapping into that very human impulse. If you make it enjoyable, you’ll be on your way to raising lots of money for your cause. On a related note, don’t miss our Eight Donation Requests Tips for Beginner Fundraisers.