Making your ask can be one of the most challenging aspects of your fundraising efforts—but it doesn’t have to be! In fact, this can actually be the easiest part of fundraising if you know how to make your appeal clearly.
Over the course of 13 years I’ve learned how to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars working for a religious non-profit, and in the process, I’ve helped train hundreds of other staff to do the same. But none of that would have been possible until I learned how to make my needs known, and for the prospective partner to know how they could meet those needs. Much of this comes down to communication, and communication can be broken down into two primary forms: direct and indirect.
Here’s an example of the difference between direct and indirect communication:
Direct – I would like a glass of water, please.
Indirect – It’s hot today. It sure would be nice to have something to drink right now.
These are both perfectly valid ways of asking for something. If you are from the majority culture in the United States, you are most likely familiar and comfortable with direct communication. However, that’s not true for all Americans. If you’re from the American south, or if you’re a member of some ethnic minority cultures, you are most likely familiar and comfortable with indirect communication.
The tricky part here is that if you come from a culture that values one style of communication over the other, the opposite style is often perceived as wrong—whether rude and inconsiderate, or passive and unclear.
As an American from Hong Kong, this tricky dance is a part of my regular life. I come from a culture that values indirect communication but I live in a country that values the opposite. Throw into the mix that I married someone from the majority culture, and it means I’m continually blending and navigating how and when to use certain communication styles.
So, let’s look at how to make clear asks for support in both direct and indirect manners!
An ask in this style will be, as the name infers, very straightforward. “I need this.” Tell the potential donor what you need, and why.
Here are some examples of a clear, direct ask:
This is what I need, why I need it, and what I’m asking you to do. I’m asking for $1,000 for a product launch. I’m asking for $50/month. I’m asking for a $100, $200, or $300 donation. Communicate the need, the reason for the need, and, finally, make a personal challenge to the potential donor about how they can participate.
Look at the last example. How would it read to you if I just left it off to this?
For direct communication, this wouldn’t be considered an ask. You’re just telling me what you need, but not letting me know what my role is. By giving those three numbers ($100, $200, $300), you’re serving my needs by giving me a clear and concise understanding of how I can help.
This one may seem counterintuitive, as indirect communication is often viewed as unclear and confusing. But that’s actually not true—it all depends on the person on the receiving end and how they internalize it.
Here are some examples of a clear, indirect ask:
In these examples, none of them has a direct ask for money, but it is implied because of the way it is phrased. To be a donor for the service project, it is implied that I need to give in the $100-$300 range. Those who value indirect communication will understand clearly that is what you’re asking and feel respected that you’re not pressuring them with a direct ask.
The pillars of a clear ask are the same:
The only difference here is the way you phrase the ask. By communicating clearly what I need and what I’m asking for, I’m giving a gift to my potential partners. I’m saving them time, I’m honoring their cultural values, and finally, I’m giving them an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Now get out there and let people know what you need, why you need it, and how they can participate!