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Fundraising Ask Secrets: How to Propel Prospects to Give

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

There’s no way to dance around the "fundraising ask" in an effective fundraising appeal.

You must ask readers to relinquish their hard-earned dollars to your cause in a way that makes them thrilled to do so.

First, in terms of technique, the fundraising ask always includes some important elements:

  • a specific cost or suggested donation amount – in plain English
  • detailed instructions that tell the reader what to do next
  • urgency for the reader to act now, rather than later

But while those specifics are necessary, you must earn the right to present them. 

What Are You Asking For?

The truth is … it’s uncomfortable to ask people for money (or in nonprofit lingo, “a financial gift.”) Even in a letter.

Surprise: you’re not asking for money. You’re not even asking the reader to support your organization.

You’re asking him to help another person.

An Effective Fundraising Ask Is About ...

A cold, clinical approach by itself, without heart (“we need XXX dollars by the end of June”), won’t move prospects to open their wallets.

An effective ask is about people, not your organization.

The Fundraising Ask: tips for fundraising writing with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #FreelanceWriting

They’re not reading a balance sheet; they’re learning about the work you do to alleviate suffering because they care. Readers intuitively understand when you are showing them respect versus when you’re trying to snow them.

Your letter communicates excitement you feel about specific lives that have been changed through your nonprofit.

Think about it: do you excited when you read about a nonprofit’s infrastructure … their organizational chart … the staff retreats or meetings they have had … the 2-day meeting with the board about balancing your budget? No.

Readers want to know about how your work changes lives. That’s their motivator.

Set the Tone With a Story

Here’s how to tell the story of a life that has been impacted by your cause or your organization.

  • Use the letter opening (“the hook”) to explain the beneficiary’s problem. Paint a picture of his life conditions, using descriptive language that engages the senses. You can also use statistics to support the need he represents.
  • In the body of the letter unpack your beneficiary’s situation further, explaining what happened when he got connected with your organization and how you helped him.
  • Tie the beneficiary’s story to your organization’s mission. Describe how your organization helps people -- transforms a grievous ill or champions a cause for people (people like this particular beneficiary.)
  • Show how your organization has made significant positive changes for people, using your opening story as an example. Use your nonprofit’s track record, data, and facts to demonstrate your organization’s track record as a problem-solver in this area. Give examples, testimonials and endorsements from other people you’ve helped.

Earn the Right to Make the Fundraising Ask

Only after you’ve done an outstanding job of weaving your mesmerizing story of a transformed life have you earned the right to make the Ask. You have engaged the prospect, enticed him, inspired him and motivated him to say “yes” … because he’s seen the tremendous benefits you provide for people. At that point, you have shown him respect and can ask for a specific dollar amount, giving him detailed instructions about how to donate, emphasizing the urgency to do so.

Remind the prospect about the beneficiary in the opening story. Explain how the prospect’s gift will help change people’s lives – people like your beneficiary.

The key word here?

People. So the secret to an effective fundraising “ask” is quite simple:

People don’t give to an organization. People give to people.

More Fundraising Writing Tips

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12 Tips for Writing Winning Asks: use these templates to show benefits ...

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How to avoid the most common appeal letter trap ...

Call to action: have you told your reader what to do?

A tale of two envelope carriers ...

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