The Art of the Ask

No matter what type of fundraising you are doing, you have to do the ask. The Art Of The Ask varies, depending on how you are raising funds – in person or online, but it all comes down to getting people to donate money to your cause.

Now, what’s the best way to ask for donations? Well, it depend on what fundraising method you are using, but there are some important principles that you should consider whenever you are asking someone for money.

Four Essential Elements to consider when asking:

  1. Identifying The Need
  2. Asking For Their Help
  3. Providing Emotional/Psychological Justification
  4. Showing How Their Donation Will Make A Difference

This is a lot of information to communicate in order to get a donation, but this is where “the art” comes in. All you need to do is reduce your donation request down to just the bare essentials.

You have to think like the author who has to describe his novel in two sentences (or less). So, the essence of the ask needs to be made in 20 words roughly. This has to be regardless of whether its an online ask, a letter or asking in a face-to-face meeting. Everything else is just inconsequential.

It storytelling in a nutshell, but the words you use in asking are what trigger donations.


IDENTIFYING THE NEED – This is the first of the two sentences in your ask. Identify the person, cause, or group that’s in need of assistance. Use strong emotional phrasing to describe the need. Paint as powerful a picture as you can while using just a few words.

There are hundreds of fundraising causes and just as many needs. All of them compete for a prospective donor’s mind-share and money.

What you need to do is shamelessly tug at their heartstrings.

Example: “Our homeless shelter keeps people from freezing to death.”  Or “A transplant is Mary’s only hope of living or she’ll die.”

ASKING FOR THEIR HELP – The word “help” is very powerful. As human beings, we are socialized from an early age to give help when it’s requested. So, not giving help when it’s directly requested is perceived as “bad” and therefore requires an excuse for saying no.

The phrase to use at the start of the second sentence is “Can you help us out…?” The crux of this phrase is that it’s a direct question and, in particular, a direct request for their help that requires a direct response. And that is why the next two parts in this second sentence of the Ask has to be included – the psychological justification and the desired result.

PROVIDES EMOTIONAL/PSYCOLOGICAL  JUSTIFICATION – Your description of the need sets the emotional stage. Your asking for their help keys the brain to respond positively – as long as there is sufficient justification. People want to help, but there is a hierarchy of needs in their subconscious mind that needs to have a rational underpinning for a yes answer.

The word “because” satisfies their subconscious need to rationalize their decision. Studies show that the last part of “the ask” – how their donation will make a difference – doesn’t have to be as strong as you think it should be since the use of the word “because” already  provided sufficient justification.

The word “because” is an extremely powerful trigger word, in fact, it is a magic word. It works better than any other word or phrase to provide an emotional/psychological justification for taking action. And your ask will not be as successful as it should be if you don’t provide that justification.

SHOW HOW THEIR DONATION WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE –The phrase you use to show how their donation will make a difference is going to vary depending on what type of fundraiser appeal you are making.

Think about online fundraising donation pages with a deadline for donations. There’s a reason that most of the donations come in during the last 48 hours of something that’s being crowd-funded. It’s because people can clearly see that their donation will make a difference by closing the gap between the goal (the need) and the current funding level.

Similarly, if you’re talking about donations to help feed or shelter the homeless, that can be translated into “x amount of dollars provides y amount of food or shelter.”  So, when you say “Can you help us out because your donation will be of a great help” you have stated the obvious, and you have also called up the emotional need that you covered in the first sentence of your ask.

It’s important to understand that you don’t want to say too much after using the word “because” since that will weaken its effect.  Using the word “this” as the object of the phrase serves to return the donor’s mind back to the initial statement of need. And its emotional underpinnings. There is no need to say more.

The bottom line? Tell your story in a succinct, providing strong emotional underpinning, and leverage The Art of the Ask to get what you need.

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