How to Ask for Money
Tips from a veteran fundraiser.
By Katherine Wertheim, CTM
As a fundraiser, I raise millions of dollars for charity, but my friend Rochelle raises hundreds of millions of dollars. Therefore, I was quite startled when I visited her house and her young son said to me, “I’m trying to raise money for my elementary school. Will you subscribe to some magazines?” I looked at Rochelle and asked, surprised, “You didn’t teach him how to just ask for money?”
If there is a cause you believe in, at some point you will be asked to raise money. While Toastmasters policy prohibits fundraising by clubs for any charity, as an individual Toastmaster you can practice persuasive speeches and learn how to ask for money so that you can help a charity of your choice outside your club. And you won’t have to sell magazine subscriptions or host golf tournaments or produce fancy fundraising dinners where most of the money ends up going to the caterer.
We fear asking for money because money is a forbidden topic in most of the world. Think of your closest friends. Chances are, you know their views on politics and religion. However, you probably don’t know the size of their salaries or bank accounts. We rarely talk about money, even among our closest friends.
So when it comes time to ask for money for a charity, we may feel like our throats are closing. Think about what makes you uncomfortable. Does it feel like you’re begging? Are you afraid that, if you ask for money, you’ll have to donate to someone else’s cause in return? Do you fear being asked a question that you can’t answer? Or is it just that you don’t know how to do it? If you know what you fear, it becomes easier to face that fear, and some knowledge and practice will help. You can learn how to create a speech that will persuade people to donate.
The most common fundraising scenario is the “group ask,” where you stand in front of a group of people and ask for money. This is the equivalent of a six- to eight-minute Toastmasters speech, and, in fact, you might want to practice it at your club first.
There are a number of ways you can start this speech. You might want to pose a problem. For example here’s a list of problems. Can you name organizations that might tackle them?
- “Millions of people worldwide will go to bed hungry tonight.”
- “No one should ever be paralyzed by polio again.”
- “Children who have nothing to do after school are likely to get into trouble.”
These problems are easy to understand and quick to state. You’ll notice that each uses words of one or two syllables. A seventh-grade student could understand them. It doesn’t take several minutes to understand each problem; you understand it in one sentence. Now, you are interested in knowing the solution. The first lesson is: People already understand the problems; they want to know what solutions you offer.
When you’ve stated the problem, you can move quickly to the solution the organization offers. What is your solution? This is where you might spend a minute – or even several minutes – explaining how the organization proposes to solve the problem.
If you want a dynamic opening statement, try beginning with the story of just one person. Here are some openings that match the previously stated problems:
- Marielene was a struggling rice farmer, but she kept her family fed – until the cyclone hit.
- Rajesh contracted polio last year, one of 674 people in India to catch it. His legs will be paralyzed for life by a disease for which a vaccine was invented decades ago. He is only three years old.
- When Jack was first caught shoplifting, he said the reason he started was because he was “bored.”
For each of those stories, you find yourself wanting to learn more. Fundraisers call this use of stories “the Anne Frank principle.” While most people have heard that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, few know that an estimated 1.5 million were children. It’s hard to picture 1.5 million children being killed, but we can read Anne Frank’s Diary and picture the loss of one child, and cry over it, and then it will be more meaningful to think of 1.5 million children being killed. In the same way, you can talk about one person who needed your organization, and then go on to talk about how many others you are helping, or whom you could help if you had the money.
People make decisions based on emotions, and then justify the decisions intellectually. You want to give them reasons to give, but first you want to touch their hearts. Beginning with an emotional appeal works best, but be sure to back it up with facts.
In an eight-minute speech, you might start by talking about one person who was in trouble, how that individual was helped, and how he or she is now successful. Then, you would talk about how many other people in a similar situation are helped by your organization. You would touch on the extent of the problem (“But there are still millions of children who go to bed hungry each night,” for example). Finally, you want to ask for money.
It works best if you can ask for a suggested amount. Many fundraising appeals fail merely because no one actually asked anyone for anything. Talk about what specific amounts of money can do: “Just 60 cents of vaccine will protect a child from polio” or “Sponsoring a child for the after-school soccer program costs just $23 per child.” People want to know a suggested amount. You can use up to three suggested amounts, and then ask for other gifts, saying, “Every dollar helps. We appreciate whatever you can give.”
Even if you have lots of time to speak, you don’t want to take up too much. People have short attention spans. If it takes much longer than ten minutes, you are probably spending too much time explaining the problem and not enough on the solution. People understand most problems pretty quickly. They know we have problems in the world; they want to know your solution.
Everyone remembers the first time they asked for money, just like you remember your first Toastmasters meeting, or your first Ice Breaker speech, or your first time serving as Toastmaster. After that, each time is easier, until the day when someone says to you, “Asking for money is so hard! How do you do it?”
Katherine Wertheim, CTM, is a member of Ventura Toastmasters club in Ventura, California and a professional fundraising consultant who has raised millions of dollars for dozens of organizations. Her website is www.werth-it.com.
Charity Begins at Home
Would you like to hold a quick, inexpensive event where you can raise funds for a worthy cause? Try holding it at home.
It’s best to have a team of two people. People like events with two hosts, because it means they will meet new people. They like events in other people’s homes so they can see how others live.
The whole event should take an hour, including time for people to arrive, socialize, listen to the pitch, give money, perhaps drink some coffee or eat dessert, and leave.
Set a date about 10 days away. That gives it a sense of urgency. Both hosts should invite their friends – invite about five times as many people as the house can hold, because only 20 percent will attend. You can send an invitation by e-mail, perhaps using a service such as Evite (www.evite.com). Otherwise, call your friends and invite them. The invitation should make it clear that it will be a fundraising event and that everyone should bring their checkbooks or money, but that there is no requirement to give and no minimum. There’s no charge at the door. Whether you raise money depends on the effectiveness of the fundraising speech.
The best part of this event is that you can repeat it endlessly by having other hosts and going to new homes and new sets of friends. You can also do a lot of these events very quickly; in fact, you often see politicians do these kinds of events, because they can be held quickly, cheaply and frequently.
Good luck in your fundraising!
“If you cannot become rich, be the neighbor of a rich man.”
– Armenian proverb