How Fundraisers Can Get Over the Fear of Asking
On this episode of Bloomerang TV, THE Fundraising Coach and Director of the Nonprofit Academy, Marc A. Pitman, stops by to talk about getting over the fear of asking for a donation.
Steven: Hello. Thanks for being here for this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for joining us. My name is Steven. As always, I’m here as your host. Today I’m joined by my good pal, Marc Pitman. He is The Fundraising Coach. He’s also director of The Nonprofit Academy. Hey there, Marc. How’s it going?
Marc Pitman: It’s going really well, thanks. How are you doing?
Steven: Good. Thanks for being here. Maybe you could tell people a little bit about what you’re up to these days. I doubt anyone doesn’t recognize you in your signature bow tie. You’re so well known. What’s going on these days?
Marc Pitman: The Escher bow tie on today.
Steven: What’s going on? What’s The Nonprofit Academy?
Marc Pitman: I’m really excited about this. The Nonprofit Academy was started about two years ago by Kirsten Bullock in Kentucky. It’s not just small nonprofits, but there are certain nonprofits where private coaching isn’t an option for them budget wise. This is just a more affordable option. It’s a membership based system. We have monthly live webinars. We have Q and A office hours monthly with me. There’s a private Facebook group where they can all interact with each other, Nonprofit Academy members.
I’m really excited about it. It’s something I’ve wanted to do. I have a Fundraising Coach University for my private coaching clients that has all my products, Fundraising Coach stuff, in there for 24/7 access, but this has got a slightly different bent. It’s really been good for the last two years. There’s already a catalog of webinars in there. There are industry experts going on. I ought to get you guys to do something on database…
Marc Pitman: …on some aspect. Yeah, I’m really excited, because it just expands the… Part of my mission is to make fundraising training ridiculously easy to find.
Marc Pitman: This is just extending my ability to do that with more people.
Steven: That’s awesome. Yeah, Kirsten’s awesome, too. You put out a lot of great content. You’ve got an awesome blog. Your newsletter is great. You do a lot of coaching. What you focus on it seems like is asking, right? There are a lot of topics in fundraising, but you focus on asking because asking is hard.
Marc Pitman: Yeah.
Steven: Sometimes it’s awkward. Why do you think it is that way? Why is asking so hard and so scary?
Marc Pitman: There are so many things. Asking kind of gets right down to the core of who we are. It deals with our fear of rejection. It deals with how we interact, how we deal with money issues.
When I was doing a leadership academy for the NCDC, the National Catholic Development Conference, in Chicago in April there were 40 senior leaders of 40 religious communities and universities in all together. We were talking. We were unpacking the UnderDeveloped study that CompassPoint did in 2013 about how most CEOs want to fire their fundraiser and most fundraisers want to quit. That’s basically what the report showed.
One of the things we talked about was our own issues with money. What were the messages about money when we were raised in our families? Was it don’t ask, don’t tell? Was it it’s dirty, we don’t talk about that stuff? Those things, even though we’re not aware of them, they get right into the ask.
Marc Pitman: You’re looking a little… I’m seeing your brow furrowed. Is there a problem with our connection, or are we still good?
Steven: I think we’re good.
Marc Pitman: Okay, cool, great. My computer’s just heating up. The little squirrels are working really hard on fixing it.
Dealing with our own issues with money I think is really important. The other part, too, is everything around fundraising is fun. We’re having friends. We’re inviting people to our vision. People are getting excited and thrilled, and we’re getting to plug into their values. Asking puts them on the spot.
Marc Pitman: That’s why it can be really awkward, because we’re asking. It’s no longer friendly. It’s asking for some sort of commitment, some sort of action. While it can be done in a friendly manner, it’s different. It’s tangibly different.
Steven: Right. How do you get over that? How do you kind of release your own baggage and get over all the things that you just said? What do you tell people to get over that fear?
Marc Pitman: Wow, there’s a great book.
Steven: It is a good book.
Marc Pitman: There’s so much to do with that. What I don’t want people to do is go into this navel gazing introspection that causes them to put off the ask. Our nonprofits could raise a lot more money if more of us would just get out there and ask. I had a client say that we facilitate the velocity, my job was to facilitate their velocity, make it go faster.
The first thing I like to do is have people get clear on their ask. What is it that they’re asking for? The four steps that I use are get REAL – because I’m a Gen X’er – research, engage, ask, and love. The R stands for research. Find out what is it you’re trying to actually fundraise for. I asked one guy. He runs a bunch of nonprofits. I asked him how much he needed to raise this year. It took him 20 minutes to answer the question.
Marc Pitman: He has fundraising which is part of the revenue stream. There are other things. He just couldn’t answer it. He’s good at what he does, and he’s opening a third one overseas. It wasn’t that he’s bad or new. It just took him a long time. Researching what you’re trying to raise.
Then, figuring out what ask levels are right with that. Giftrangecalculator.com is something I’ve set up. There are others on the web. You can just search gift range calculator and it shows you. Strategically, we studied this since World War Two. We know what levels we should be asking people for. The biggest mistake we often make, especially new people, is if they’re raising $100,000 they say oh, we only need 100 people to give $1000, or we need 1000 people to give $100.
Marc Pitman: Mathematically, it’s right, but in my experience – I don’t know about yours – we’re not mathematical human beings.
Marc Pitman: We’re emotional. There are some people that need to make big gifts and some people that need to make small gifts. The researching, and then you can start building a prospect list.
Having that plan gets you over the fear, because all of a sudden you’re seeing oh, there are steps. It’s not just everybody’s a potential donor. Sitting by yourself at a desk thinking you have to raise a whole bunch of money can be so overwhelming. It can just feel like all the pressure’s pushing on you, because you just don’t know where to get started.
Marc Pitman: Start getting toe holds and looking at what you’re trying to raise for, what levels you need to ask for, who those people might be, and maybe Google’ing those people to see if there are connections, looking through your database to see their notes that are there, what kind of interactions have they had. That will lead you to the engagement which is getting to know them, dating them, asking – which is actually putting them on the spot basically. Then, loving them, which is the fourth step, which is thanking them and showing them they had an impact.
If I could just ramble a little bit longer…
Steven: Oh, please.
Marc Pitman: …one of the things that makes it bad, I think, about fundraising, or fearful, is that we don’t really do a good job of showing donors that they’re the hero. Tom Hearn [SP 0:06:54] is just great at saying we’ve got to make donors the hero.
In our well meaning but ill thought communications we think that we need to show people we’re a good investment. I’m talking as a nonprofit right now. When you give to me, we have done, we have this top rating and this rating, and our staff are getting these certificates, and we’re doing these sort of things, and we’re getting these accolades and praise. But, to a donor that sounds like the teacher on ‘Peanuts.’
Marc Pitman: You know that cartoon, wah, wah wah, wah wah. They don’t care. There’s the other one, the dog. What the dog really hears is blah blah blah blah Rover blah blah blah blah Rover.
What we need in our communications, I guess, is to have more Rover. We need to say, Steve, you’re making this mission possible, and it’s not just this mission. It’s the smiling kid. It’s food that’s going on pantries that wasn’t going on there before. It’s these trees that are growing. These trees weren’t hear before, but because there are people like you now there are full grown trees. Look at what you just did. In 20 years they’re going to be this type of forest because of your work.
Marc Pitman: Showing them clearly, removing us. The only way they’re going to get that mission impact is through us. They get that, but we need to connect them a little bit more. That makes the ask a lot easier, too.
Steven: Let’s talk about the actual ask. Everyone does everything that you just suggested. They follow your advice. They get over the paralysis by analysis. They have their plan. They know how much they want to ask for and who they’re going to ask. Okay, now pick up the phone. Or, you’re at the coffee shop, you’re sitting next to them. It’s time to make the ask. What do you actually do? What do people get wrong in that actual physical task of making the ask for the donation?
Marc Pitman: The first thing that I think we often get wrong is we don’t set it up well. We lie to board members. We tell them oh, it’s not going to be a lot of work and it’ll be a lot of fun. It’s neither. It’s usually a lot of work, and it’s not the most entertaining enterprise to be a board member.
It’s the same with the ask. I think one of the things that we need to do is be really clear. We got into this. I was able to do a training for Georgetown University a couple of weeks ago. They are $1.3 billion into a $1.5 billion campaign. They’re still looking for the basics, which is brilliant. I mean that just shows their sophistication that they know that it’s keeping the basics up.
We were talking about when you set up your appointment making it different. My first appointment was awful. It was an ask for $100,000. I failed miserably, but it got me hooked. It was great. The strategy and everything about it was right. I just screwed up in a couple of places. One of them was the initial set up. I called the person up and said I’m going to be in your area. I wasn’t going to be in their area if they weren’t going to meet with me.
Marc Pitman: They lived a couple of hours away, but, hey, I’m going to be driving through your area. I was wondering if I could stop by for a cup of coffee. Totally legitimate reason to visit, but not to do a solicitation.
Marc Pitman: The solicitation would be I would love to talk to you about the project, or I’d love to show you some of the impact the kids are having, something like that. That sets up the ask much better.
The other one is I just did a blog post recently about your steering wheel being the most important tool in your fundraising toolkit. If you’ve ever made an ask you know that when you drive away from the situation, you’re talking your steering wheel. Oh, man, I should’ve said this. Oh, they said that. What was I thinking?
What we can do is talk to the steering wheel before the ask. Use the phrases. The phrase that has raised millions of dollars for myself and my clients is I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of, and then being specific about that gift. Again, just practice it. I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $100,000. I’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $100,000. Would you consider a gift?
What I like about that is asking puts somebody on the spot so much that when you ask them to consider it feels like you’re not putting a gun to their head. You’re asking them to be in a reflecting space. It’s still the same thing. You’re asking them to make a gift, but it feels a little bit softer and kinder. Practicing the ask. Can I give you the psychology behind that?
Marc Pitman: I’ll call it psychology. I don’t know if it really is…
Steven: It is.
Marc Pitman: …but this is what I found, all right, the psychology behind it. What we’re doing when we’re asking is we’re putting the donor on the spot, so we need to clear all the different detours, all the different roadblocks in the way. A lot of those roadblocks are us. If we’re scared about asking they’re going to pick up on the fact that there’s some tension in the air.
Marc Pitman: They’re not going to be able to figure out what the tension is, so they think maybe it’s an intuition that you’re not a good cause to give to. They’re going to pick up. If you stumble over the ask they’re not going to hear the ask clearly. They’re going to hear the stumble and wonder why are you hesitating, what do you know that I don’t know. Because there’s a lot of bad press about charities out there. Their brain is just trying to scurry to figure out. I’m intuitively getting something. Let’s make it make logical sense.
Marc Pitman: Some of the ways we can get over that is if we’re afraid, especially volunteers, just be honest about it. Honesty and integrity are some of the best fundraising tools out there. I love them. They’re easy to remember. If I’m asking you and I start stumbling I could say Steve, you know what, I’m really nervous about this. I don’t do this often. All the sudden you’ve come on my side.
Marc Pitman: You’re like oh, wow, I want to help you out, Marc. I don’t ask, either. It’s not a fun thing to do. Whatever it is, you become someone that wants to help.
If you practice it in advance then you don’t stumble when you actually make the ask, so you’ve removed those roadblocks you stumbled. If you do, you can just chuckle. Laughing can always be good.
Then, setting it up well also removes roadblocks, because if you start rambling and you forget why you’re there, or you chicken out… One of the biggest lies that we tell ourselves is the time wasn’t right. They weren’t ready for the ask. The atmosphere wasn’t right. I hear that. I’ve said it a lot. That’s just because we chicken out often. Not all of the time, but a lot of the time we just chicken out. We get afraid.
If we’re on that trail the donor will pull us back. Okay, look, I’m so glad you were talking about your kids and the disasters and all the other places, but didn’t you want to talk to me about the annual fund? Yeah, thank you. Then, all of a sudden, it’s amazing when the donor invites you to talk about what you came to talk about or the prospect. Boom. You get into this kind of vein of there’s no more question. You have total permission…
Marc Pitman: …to move forward with the solicitation. Those are all helpful, practical tips.
Steven: I’m hearing confidence, right, going in, clarity, and transparency about what’s actually going to happen. Is it safe to say those are three pretty big takeaways?
Marc Pitman: Yeah, I think that’s good. The transparency, I had a physician who was doing a grateful patient survey in the Boston area last year. The physician said we don’t do walletectomies. We don’t surgically remove people’s wallets. We see patients on gurneys. We don’t know what their wealth is.
The transparency is something that’s comfortable for you and sets the tone without saying I’m going to ask you for money. What you don’t want to do in the set up is get into the ask on the phone.
Marc Pitman: That’s not the point. If they say how much do you want and you really want to meet with them, which happens all the time. Increasingly, people are getting busy I didn’t think they could get busier We are. We’re getting a lot busier.
You can say to them look, it’s too important to talk over the phone. I’d like to get together with you.
Or, get your video camera out of your pocket, film some mission moment, Shanon Doolittle calls them mission moments, film something that’s going on in your mission, in your nonprofit, some impact, and then show it to them. Hey, I just got this yesterday. Here’s a puppy that’s been spayed and neutered. Or, here’s a kid that’s doing something. Or, whatever your cause is. Here’s a retiree that’s found a meaning in their second half of life because of our nonprofit. Whatever the cause is, you have mission moments.
Marc Pitman: Yeah, the transparency then is not quite I’m going to ask you for your major gift, although there are some people you can do that one. I’d rather not invoice you. I’d rather deliver it in person.
Marc Pitman: Maybe that would work. I don’t know.
Steven: Cool, Marc. This is great advice. I really appreciate you sharing all your knowledge with us. Fundraising is an extreme sport. You’re right. I’m getting the sense of this from everything you said.
Marc Pitman: Well, part of the reason I say that, too, is when you do the ask. I’ve never bungee jumped, but when you do the ask you’re out of control.
Marc Pitman: I love in my training I’ve got a picture of Mr. T that I put up on the screen after the ask. You’ve said the ask. I’m a big fan of you have to be a specific dollar amount. One of the biggest mistakes we tend to make is that support our cause.
Marc Pitman: Well, you don’t know what I’m thinking when that comes to supporting. Again, that’s another roadblock. You might be thinking $25, and I might be thinking $250. Come on, give me something to work with. Give me a hard number to work with.
I have a colleague that works with a great consulting group, Graham-Pelton Consulting. He’s okay with pledges. We do a lot of campaigns together. He’s okay with would you consider $20,000 a year for the next five years.
I prefer would you consider $100,000. I want that deer in the headlight look. I want them to know I’m asking you to prioritize us for a set period of time. My experience is we’re not really good doing math on the fly.
Marc Pitman: A donor doesn’t live in our five year right.
Marc Pitman: The bonus of leading with a five year ask is $20,000 sounds less than $100,000. People don’t realize when you ask them all up front that there are pledge options.
Marc Pitman: Because they don’t live in our world. Either way. If you ask the dollar amount right up front then you’ve put them on the spot. Then, the biggest thing you need to do, shut up. That’s why Mr. T – shut up, fool.
Marc Pitman: You feel like he’s talking to Murdock. We’ve got to let you process. I’ve asked you. I’ve put you on the spot. It’s up to you. Now you’ve got to process. I’ll know when you’re done processing because you’ll be the first to speak.
Steven: Yeah. You could make a really good ask, but keep talking and you talk them out of it.
Marc Pitman: Oh my goodness, yeah. I’ve done that. A lot of people have never heard of this. I’m sitting down with you for coffee. I make an ask and detect a slight hesitation which I think is hesitation. It’s really just processing through your brain as you’re trying to think about can I give that from my bank account, how would explain that to my business partners, how would I explain that to my spouse, whatever you’re going through.
I hear a little hesitation and I’ll say well, it doesn’t really have to be $100,000. It could be $50,000. We’re actually only asking for participation. You know what? Forget it. Forget I even asked. Let me take the check and we’re just going to go and make sure this didn’t happen.
We’ve all done that. You get verbal diarrhea.
Marc Pitman: It’s the discipline. This is the extreme sport. I’m going back to that. The extreme sport part is you’re out of control, and I figure it must be the same sort of feeling with bungee jumping although I’ve never done it. There’s an adrenaline rush of is this going to work.
Where it becomes really fun is when you… I always ask in my trainings hey, has anybody here had that eyes light up moment of I could invest in this. Every room that I’ve talked to has at least a few people that have had donors get excited about being asked. They weren’t excited up to the point, but then when you make that connection, I call it putting a plug in an electrical outlet. It’s just electric. Power goes on. Once you’ve had a couple of those under your belt your confidence really increases, because you just never know.
Marc Pitman: Is this the next one? Is this going to be the next donor that I get to give meaning to or introduce something that they connect a value that they care about and didn’t know they can impact? It gets fun.
Steven: You get those.
Marc Pitman: I’m really fascinated about this.
Steven: I can tell. Well, Marc, where can people find out more about you? You’ve got to subscribe to Marc’s newsletter. You’ve got to read his blog. Awesome stuff.
Marc Pitman: Thanks. Fundraisingcoach.com and thenonprofitacademy.com. Also, Twitter, #marcapitman. I try to be totally accessible there. Most of my social media stuff is marcapitman, marc with a C.
Steven: We will link to all of that. Marc, before I let you go, I just want to make sure that that is, in fact, a Dr. Who light switch…
Marc Pitman: I’m so glad you noticed it! Yes! That is the TARDIS on my light switch light plate. Yeah.
Steven: Okay, good. I just wanted to make sure.
Marc Pitman: Bow ties are cool, but I was wearing it before the Doctor.
Steven: Yeah, you were. I know you were. All right, Marc…
Marc Pitman: He can do time warp, so he probably was wearing them before me in some aspect.
Steven: Well, this could get complicated. Marc, this is awesome. Thanks so much. This is a lot of fun. Thanks to all of you for watching. We’ll link to all of Marc’s stuff. We hope you catch the next episode next week. We will talk to you then. Bye now.