Here’s a secret you won’t hear from your boss or read in most fundraising books… most fundraisers get nervous when making asks in person. Even those grizzled development veterans at your office or leading fundraising seminars sometimes get nervous before a big ask.
Of course, that feeling of nervousness subsides, and many times even disappears, with practice. Once you have made dozens of asks per year for a couple of years, it will come as second nature. Until it does, here are four practical tips to help you feel more comfortable when making in person asks for your non-profit:
#1: Ask Personal Questions
When sitting down with a prospect, don’t feel like you have to launch right into your fundraising pitch. In fact, it is better that you don’t. Instead, start off with some small talk, and ask some personal questions, like:
- How are your kids?
- How did you get into this line of work?
- How is business?
- Do you follow the local sports team?
- What is that interesting poster on your wall?
- Who designed your office?
Treat your prospect like a real person, and have a real conversation with him or her. Hopefully, you’re always cultivating before you ask, so you’ll know a little about the person before you go to the meeting, and can prepare some interesting questions before hand. Have a conversation before you get to the ask.
#2: Bring a Prop
One great way to feel more comfortable when meeting with a prospect is to bring a prop to talk about. It can be as simple as a copy of your most recent newsletter or annual report, or perhaps some pictures of the work your non-profit is doing.
Think creatively. If you are fundraising for a school, why not bring some pictures the students drew? If you are fundraising for an international relief organization, show off some art created by the villagers in a town where you installed running water for the first time.
Use the prop or props you bring to stimulate conversation about your organization’s work, and to elicit questions and an emotional response from your prospect.
#3: Prepare Three Stories in Advance
Before going in to meet with a prospect, think about all of the stories you have heard about your organization’s work. Which are the most compelling? Which do you enjoy telling the most? Prospects love to hear true stories about the work your non-profit is engaged in.
Prepare to tell three such stories in advance of your meeting. Tell them to yourself, your spouse, and/or a friend or co-worker. Be ready to tell them at the meeting. Once you are sitting across from your prospect, you’ll know whether to tell them or not. Perhaps you’ll use one, perhaps two, maybe all three. No matter how many you end up using, you’ll feel better knowing you have three great stories about your work in your back pocket.
#4: Have a Plan
If you have a plan for the conversation, you’ll feel much better going in to make an ask. I suggest that you write out your plan, at least until you get comfortable with asking for donations. Writing out the plan works well for both phone and in person asks.
Your plan should include personal questions you can ask the prospect, stories you can tell, and a general flow of conversation that culminates in using my six-step formula for making great asks. Put all of this into a flow chart so that you know what to do when you get into the room. It will make you feel much more comfortable that walking into an ask and winging it.