Advice for Fundraisers Who Hate Asking
On this episode of Bloomerang TV, money wellness expert and fundraising advisor Laura Fredricks joins us to discuss how fundraisers can improve their asking skills.
Steven: Hey there, welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for joining us. I’m Steven, our host, as always.
You know, asking for money is hard. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. It’s hard to ask for money. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes people are just not comfortable doing it. That’s why I have my guest on today. She is Laura Fredricks. She is founder and CEO of THE ASK. She’s an expert on asking. Laura, how’s it going?
Laura: It’s going very well, very, very well.
Steven: Thanks for being here. Thanks for joining us.
Laura: My pleasure
Steven: We met in Pittsburgh about a month ago; we were both speaking in at a great event. I was listening in on your presentation. I know I had to bounce out for the second half of it. But I was like, “I need to have Laura on because she is saying things that all fund raisers need to hear about asking for money, what not to do, what to do.”
Laura, what’s your philosophy on asking? Where did this expertise come from?
Laura: Well, my mantra is “Ask early and often.” So let me share that with you. Just to pull the strings together, I practiced law for a lot of years, in Philadelphia. And I was winning a lot of cases on cross examination because it dawned on me, I’m asking the right questions, right?
From there, the Bar Association asked me to head their foundation, which raises and distributes money to community legal services. So that’s how I got into philanthropy. So from a series of jobs it just dawned on me, asking was easy for me because I put organization, structure and focus on it. Had I not done that, it would be a daunting task, like you have a group of people, they have potential to help you, what do you do?
And you just kind of dive in without putting some structure on it. So I really think my legal background helped me a lot. So that’s what got me into to developing the book, THE ASK. And then from there I spun off on my own, doing consulting and then forming the company THE ASK because the ask applies to business, it applies to living, and when you think about it, Steven, every decision you make in your entire life deals with money. Whether you take the subway, whether you drive a car, where you park, do you get coffee? I mean every decision is about money, so let’s get it right.
Steven: That’s right. So what’s the problem? Why do people have so much trouble asking for money? It seems that fundraisers are kind of adverse to asking for money, which sounds counter intuitive, but it’s true in a lot of cases.
Laura: It is. In the old days, the old me would have said, “They’re afraid to hear no.” That’s part of it, you know, that’s part of it. But I’ve discovered recently the main reason is they don’t know what they want, and why. So I just say step back as part of the organization. What do you want, when, and what will it do? And if you get crystal clear about that, it becomes easier. So you have to know the why behind it, the timing and exactly what you want, and that means a numerical figure. It doesn’t mean a little bit more than last year, or a brand new, do what you can. So that’s probably the reason why they don’t know the words, and the words are so powerful. What is it exactly you’re going to say? So I think that prevents it. That’s the first one.
Second is, I see too much actually in business as well as philanthropy that if we have a great personal relationship, and you know everything about me, it’s just going to organically happen and you don’t have to ask. You know, you do. So that’s the second part of it.
And then the third part, which you know you and I will chat about, is I found that people who have a hard time with money in general make very bad askers.
Steven: That’s interesting. What’s the idea behind that? Even people who are really prepared and do all the things you say, even if they have that sort of trait, it’s still difficult for them?
Laura: It is. Recently I just developed this whole money wellness program and I thought, what’s this all about? It’s about money really affects your mind, body, soul, exercise, diet, health. If you’re not good about money personally, how you feel, if you don’t have great values in what it can do, you’re going to be a very bad asker, because you always insert yourself. Like Steven couldn’t possibly do it because I couldn’t do it.
Laura: I could ask you for half a million, I could never do it. When you think about the other way is, you will probably make in your lifetime a half million dollars of investment in your family. And so you’re right there with them. So when you get money, well, you will be the best asker possible.
Steven: So if you fix all these things, you get your vision…
Laura: I like your word “fix.”
Steven: I know it’s not easy, but we’ll kind of zoom past it. You fix all those things, you’ve got your meeting set, you know what you want, you feel confident. Is there a formula or some sort of mechanism that will make that ask more effective? Is there a combination of words? What are those secret things that need to come out of your mouth, or not come out of your mouth I’m guessing in some cases, to make that ask really successful?
Laura: I’ve identified five steps that mentally get you prepared. I think asking is 90% of mentally being prepared. The first thing I shared with us and your audience, know exactly what you want with numbers and dates. So Steven, if I want to ask you for… it’s a big event coming, and its also the end of your giving where 99.9% of all people make their money, so here we go. Line it up in ask in October, close in December, that’s my tip for everybody. So know exactly what you want, with numbers and dates. So if I’m talking to you now, we want to close this out by December 5th, so that’s a plan.
Number two, just prepare. I have to really write down every single thing I think you’re going to say to me, everything. Not a good time, can’t do it, didn’t you ask for this. Write it all down so that when you come back I’m not shocked and ready to go.
Three, and one of my favorites, is just deliver with confidence. I have to sell you, and I love that word “sell,” and convince you that together we’re going to have this impact.
And you really have to have a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm. I’ve seen the ask go down because the energy goes down, the second guessing comes up.
Fourth part, and here’s the part where people just jump over it, I have to reiterate what I think I heard. So Steven might say to me, “Gosh, Laura, I’ve got to think about it.” So I’m already going to run to, “I asked for too much.” That’s not what you said, right? So you have to explore what that means to you. Can you share with me? What I have to think about is, can I help you think about it?
Part of the ask is I think we make it, we feel it’s a home run, and we leave the person out there. I want to bring them back in and say, “What can we work on together?” And that’s how most gifts aren’t closed, because we don’t know how to close it. So reiterate what we think we heard. Share with me, “Well, Laura, I’ve made all my philanthropic gifts for this year.” “Good, can I come to you next March and we can talk about it?” Right?
The fifth step is plan your next move. Do I come back next March or can I come back to you to close it out this December?
So there are five solid steps, and in your mind you are mentally prepared.
Steven: I like how you gave a couple of examples of how you can turn a no, or even a noncommittal, into something positive and a next step. Can you pull that out a bit? I fear that if a fundraiser hears that no, and they close their binder and the meeting’s over. But what can we do rather than just making that the finality of the ask?
Laura: It’s a great question and there’s so much to drill down in there. You have to find out the reason behind the no. And the power of your life is the questions you ask. So you say, “Steven, can you share with me, and it would be very helpful for me and my organization to know why at this time you don’t want to?” You’ve got to find out the no. I could name a thousand things right now, but everyone runs off to the ask amount was too high, and nine times out of ten it has nothing to do with that. Nothing to do with that.
It has to do with questions you need to ask. Where are we on your philanthropic priorities? They may have said “no” because your six, seven and eight, and you thought you were one, two or three. It could be “no” because their children just announced they’re going to private school, or something happened to them personally. Or suddenly the income they thought they had at the end of the year, they don’t have. They’ll share it with you, they really will. But “no” now does not mean “no” later. “Thank you for your honesty. Can I come back to you? Can we revisit this early next year?” And go from there.
So the problem is most people drop it, like you say. I like your image, close the notebook. Pick up with the next prospect. The worst thing you can do is ask and leave. It is the worst. It does such damage to the organization. Because you know what it meant? I didn’t matter. It wasn’t important.
Steven: Right. You come from the law world, and I do too. Do you think fundraising is sales?
Laura: I think a lot of it is sales, and I think people should think of sales as a positive thing. Sales learns from us, and we learn from sales. Combined, if you’ve got the background and the skill set from both, you’re explosive. Sales is, people say, “Oh it’s pounding people with products,” and on and on. Is that any different when we go to see a prospect and all we’re doing? We’re doing the talking for 90 minutes and giving them a binder of information, what’s the difference? Right?
Laura: We both can learn. What it is, we both have to be superior listeners. We both are in the people business. It’s about them, not about us. And we both are picking up cues and going with it. So I’ve hired lots of people straight out of the sales force who had adaptability, flexibility and creativity to learn, as well as bring their skills. And I think together it’s explosive. It’s fabulous.
Steven: Absolutely. One last question, and I’ll leave you with this. Maybe you’ve been in this situation, I definitely have, especially in the sales world, where you’re making an ask. And you feel like, “Oh, this isn’t going very well. Maybe I didn’t prepare as well as I thought I did.” Is there any way to salvage that? Should you be open and honest and say, “I feel like this isn’t going very well,” or do you feel that? What are the kind of things that you can do to kind of right the ship, or at least save the relationship if you feel like the ask is really not kind of going very well?
Laura: I’ve been there, and so have you, right? We’ve both been there. I believe honesty wins the day, and I’ve had a lot of situations where suddenly their mind is drifting, I’ve had a lot of that. And I stop and say, “If this is not a good time, you just let me know, because you’re more important than this conversation. Again, you’ve got to get into their world, right? You pounding them with the information and the delivery, and I understand because a lot of people go back to their offices and their boss will say, “But you didn’t ask.”
But you have to say, “I picked up on their cues.” And I leave them with this, “I was here to ask you for this, I sense it is not the right time. Let me come back when it is.” Believe me, you’re going to get a lot more mileage out of that than anything, because you care about them. So I stop it right away if my instincts tell me they are drifting, they don’t care. I’ve had people pick up a cell phone and take a call. And I’m like, “Listen, that tells me where are the cues?
I always say this, Steven, you know this, donors leave clues. We miss every one of them. If they pick up their cell phone, guess what? They don’t know, like and trust you enough, and they’re not educated enough, because that’s more important than this, which tells me we have to build up that trust relationship and education for them.
Steven: I’m glad you mentioned that pressure from above. There is a lot of pressure I think, from managers of fundraisers to ask, and generate the revenue. We kind of have a cultural problem, it seems like, where maybe these stewarding-type conversations are not really valued. Do you think that’s true?
Laura: You know, it varies from organization to organization. Obviously, we all want to raise money so we can help all the beneficiaries. I get that. But you know, when I manage people, I like to look at it as what’s the progress? Where have we gone? These little pieces of information are so telling about the donors we have. They will stay with you for a lifetime if you get in sync with them. And sometimes that’s just got to be more important than, “Did you bring the six figure gift home, or is it about to be lined up in the queue?”
But the reverse side is you can’t have people that always use that as an excuse. If you’re a good manager, you’ll be able to tell the difference. There is a lot of pressure out there to do it. I don’t like to ask someone prematurely because there is the right time to ask. But you’re right, there’s a lot of pressure. There is. It’s reality.
Steven: Well Laura, this is awesome. This is great advice. I want people to follow you, check out your book. Where can people learn more about you?
Laura: Very, very simple. Just go to EXPERTonTHEASK.com. E-X-P-E-R-T, which we all are, O-N-T-H-E-A-S-K. Please follow me on Twitter, EXPERTonTHEASK, because I give lots of links, lots of tips. My website is jam packed with information. Also just check out, I started a brand new money wellness program. It taught me a lot. It’s 30 days to remove your money blockers so you can go forward and be the best asker you can.
Steven: Very cool. And if you see Laura’s name on a conference agenda, you need to go to that session. Don’t go to the other ones.
Laura: Ditto for you. Too.
Steven: Thank, Laura. This is awesome. We’ll have to have you back for another chat. Thanks to all of you for watching and listening along today. We’ll catch you next week with another great episode. We’ll talk to you then.
Laura: Thanks, Steven.