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Elizabeth Chung
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Why Your Development Team Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Ask for Money

Development officers seek financial support day in and day out. But the thought of constantly asking can sometimes discourage even the most seasoned of fundraisers.

For many people, the idea of asking for help is intimidating. It’s often tied to feelings of discomfort, embarrassment, or awkwardness. This shouldn’t be the case. Social impact organizations should confidently fundraise and rally communities around their cause. And according to recent research, people are much more likely to answer the call than you’d assume.

Here’s a look at why you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for money, as well as a few tips to help bring new supporters into the fold.

People Are More Willing to Help Than You Think

Research has shown that people should be more confident about asking for assistance. Frank Flynn, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Vanessa Lake, a Columbia psychology PhD student, conducted several studies verifying people’s tendency to underestimate how willing others are to help.

In the first set of studies, participants estimated how many people on a school campus would agree to do favors for them. Participants then asked strangers to lend their cell phones, fill out questionnaires, and even walk with them for at least two blocks towards the gym. In each of these scenarios, participants expected to have to ask twice the number of people than they actually did.

Another study—this one directly related to fundraising—echoed these findings. Volunteers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society were asked to guess a) the number of people they’d have to ask to reach a campaign fundraising goal, and b) the average gift size. Again, participants overestimated the number of people they’d have to ask—by 50 percent, to boot. The average donation was also $17 more than participants predicted.

In short, research consistently shows that people tend to underestimate others’ eagerness to comply with a request. This is important for development professionals to know; don’t assume your audience doesn’t care. People will likely exceed your expectations and gladly get involved, so don’t be embarrassed or reluctant to ask for help. Those who ask for help, get it.

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Making an Ask

Now that you know people are probably more willing to offer support than you think, here are a few tips to solicit donors successfully.

1. Use Storytelling

Listing off impact stats can demonstrate the effectiveness of your work, but numbers themselves won’t always move someone to action. Your appeal needs to create an emotional connection as well. The key is to weave in elements of storytelling that pull donors into your work.

Feature stories about constituents impacted by your programs, a recent victory, or even an upcoming challenge. Since visual content is especially compelling, make sure to include photos or videos that transport donors to the front lines. Visuals evoke a response through your supporters’ senses and bring your story to life.

2. Be Direct With Your Ask

While explaining the problem you solve raises awareness, people won’t get involved if you don’t tell them exactly how. In another study conducted by Flynn and Lake, participants mistakenly believed that they would be more likely to receive help if they asked indirectly, such as with a certain look. However, the people being asked to help said they would be more likely to lend a hand if asked outright, plain and simple.

In your appeals, state explicitly how people can get involved. Do you want them to donate? Start a fundraising page? Join your monthly giving program? At the bottom of your email appeal, place a bold, high-contrast call to action button that presents the next step you want readers to take.

Your website should also display a clear donate button. Place it in the top navigation bar so visitors know right away that you want their support.

3. Don’t Downgrade Donors

Any amount makes a difference, but don’t underestimate your audience’s giving potential. Make sure your suggested giving levels are appropriate for your donors and their giving range.

You can do this by creating custom donation pages for different donors. First, segment your donor base into different tiers (high-tier, mid-tier, low-tier) based on their historical average gift size. Then, you can create a custom donation page for each group, adjusting the default amounts to correspond with their specific giving history. This allows you to try and increase some donors’ gifts, without downgrading larger donors.

Read: How to Choose Your Giving Levels

Although many people might hesitate to ask for money, social impact organizations should fundraise and appeal to their donors with confidence. Don’t assume that people will be reluctant to support you financially. As research shows, they are more willing to help than you think. You’re also presenting your audience the chance to advance a worthy cause. Remember that donating to your work is an opportunity, not a favor.


Win the Hearts and Minds of Donors

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