Understanding Your Personal Asking Style – with Andrea Kihlstedt

Today, as part of our Learn from an Authority interview series, we are talking with Andrea Kihlstedt, consultant, author, and founder of Asking Matters, about making effective fundraising asks.

1. Andrea, as the founder of Asking Matters, you’ve helped hundreds of fundraisers learn how to make an ask in a way that suits their own personal style. What is the most common misconception people have about making asks, and how do we correct it?

The most common misconception about asking someone for a gift is the belief that the most important element of an ask is the presentation made by the asker. That perception is far from the truth. The best asks are real conversations in which the donor speaks as much or more than the asker.

I recommend that people prepare to ask by practicing their presentation with a stopwatch to make sure they can give their “pitch” in under 90 seconds. That means, of course, that the asker isn’t telling the donor everything she knows in that time, but rather, she’s selecting some salient points that she thinks are meaningful. Then, after her 90-second presentation, she will be able to share more in response to the donor’s questions.

Each of us is likely to make a slightly different kind of presentation. Some may focus on numbers and outcomes. Others may focus on stories and experiences. The most effective presentations are the ones that resonate to the asker!

2. What is an “asking style,” and why is it important for fundraisers to understand their own personal style?

There’s not just one right way to ask for a gift. Because great asks are personal and authentic, two-way conversations, we would make a mistake by thinking that there’s only one way to make an ask. If each of us asks for a gift in the way that suits us best, capitalizing on our individual strengths, not only will it be easier to ask, but we’ll be more successful at it.

At Asking Matters, we’ve created a system of Asking Styles to help people understand the style that suits them best. With our simple system, people come to realize that whether they are introverts or extroverts, intuitive or analytic, they have natural skills that are perfectly suited to asking.

We’ve had more than 6000 people take the Asking Style Assessment. Many of them report to us that understanding their strengths and realizing that those strengths can be used to good effect has been liberating and has given them confidence they didn’t have before.

3. Do great fundraisers need to be smooth, charismatic operators who can sell the proverbial ice to Eskimos?

Your question captures the essence of the thinking we are happy to debunk! Fundraising is not about selling ice to Eskimos. Rather, it’s about helping generous people find the best way to make a difference in the world. Our task as solicitors is not to dupe or push or force anyone into anything. Our job is to share in an authentic conversation about shared values. And frankly, smooth charismatic operators are often not good at that. Give me someone who is heartfelt and a bit timid and I’ll show you the potential in that person to be a fantastic solicitor!

4. Can anyone be a successful fundraiser?

Anyone who cares deeply about their organization can be a successful fundraiser. If someone cares, if they select qualified prospects, and if they take some time to learn how to ask, they can be successful.

5. What is your advice to those readers who are new to non-profit development, but want to become effective “askers” in the future? Where should they start?

Of course, I’d send them to Asking Matters to take the Asking Style Assessment. That will help them identify their natural strengths in fundraising. I would also encourage them to go out on fundraising calls with someone more experienced. And finally, I’d suggest that they practice a bit by asking people who are close to their organization and/or close to them. After you’ve seen good asking and tried it out yourself in relatively safe situations, you’ll find that it gets more natural.

6. I’ve heard from many non-profits that worry about the fact that their boards don’t like to fundraise. How can development officers help their boards become effective fundraisers?

Most people are not born knowing how to fundraise. But when I ask organizations how much time, energy and money they invest in training their boards about fundraising, the responses are usually “none.” It’s no surprise that if we don’t invest in training for our board members, they won’t feel comfortable doing the task. That’s particularly true of asking because it’s an activity that brings with it a high level of anxiety.

So start with some training for your board, and if the entire board isn’t willing, pick two or three people who are. Have them identify their Asking Styles. You might bring in a consultant to work with them or have them take advantage of some of the Asking Matters resources to learn how to ask. Then when the first two or three are comfortable, have them ask people who are likely to say yes. Their early successes may well inspire other board members.

7. Finally, Andrea, you and your partner Brian Saber have put together an amazing resource at Asking Matters. Are there any other projects you are currently working on that you’d like our readers to know about?

We have two projects in the works that I’m tremendously excited about. One is a 6-week training course on Asking. We’ve used your model, Joe, and are developing a set of downloadable resources for board and staff members to train them to ask. We’ll have it ready to go by the fall.

And I’m stoked by a video project I’m hatching at the moment. The idea is to provide videos of people asking for gifts—the actual solicitation process. We’ll show a variety of examples by different people of different styles. And we’ll package it with a training manual so that any development director can become a great solicitation trainer. They just need to gather a few people and have conversations about asking that are organized around watching the video clips. I’m hoping to shoot these this summer and get them edited in time for people to use them for their fall major gift campaigns.