September 2018
Practical Stewardship

Five Positive Ways to Ask for Money

I was sixteen and sitting in my grandmother’s living room when I received my first real lesson in stewardship. Out of nowhere, she said “so I stopped tipping the paperboy,” and then, almost to herself, “he never says thank you.” The service had not changed. She still loved the paper—and the crossword, but she was frustrated that she was not recognized.

Since that early lesson, I have learned that stewardship is more than saying thanks; it’s how we involve our community in the life of our organization. There is a wonderful saying in fundraising—Nobody wants to cut stone, but everybody wants to build a church. Asking people to give without engaging them in the mission of your organization is asking them to cut stone. It might work for smaller gifts, but true philanthropic investment requires connecting donors to the overall impact of their gift.

Donors are giving more than ever to causes that provided meaningful engagement. According to Giving USA, more than $410 billion was donated to charity in 2017, with nearly one third of the total to religious causes. When you build relationships with your donors, you connect them to the difference they want to make in the world.

Use your solicitations to learn more about your donors and extend their connection with your organization. A well-planned solicitation should be a rewarding experience for everyone and a time to explore new opportunities, share exciting ideas and learn what matters most to the people who are deeply committed to your organization. To build a positive solicitation experience you should:

1. Be upfront. Set yourself up for success when setting the meeting by letting the donor know you are coming to discuss a gift. Donors don’t want to be ambushed, and nobody likes meetings with ulterior motives. Make it clear at the outset: “I would like to meet to share our plans and see where they might align with your philanthropic interests.” When everyone at the meeting is on the same page, the conversation will be more productive.

2. Be inspiring. Share your vision. Explain how your project is changing the world / improving the community / strengthening the Church and why the person you are meeting with is in a unique position to help effect that change. Engage visionaries within your organization like program coordinators, clergy, laity and program beneficiaries to help tell the story. Their passion for a project is infectious.

3. Be specific. You’ve discussed philanthropy and shared your vision. Now it’s time for an ask. Make sure to ask for a specific dollar amount. Donors want to know what is expected of them and what is required financially to make a program successful. Ask amounts should be based on program costs and set at a level the donor can meet. “Launching this program will cost $10,000 and I would like you to consider championing our efforts with a gift of $5,000.”

4. Be silent. You’ve provided a lot of information to think about and asked for a specific dollar amount. Respect your donors. Give them the time they need to process your request without interruption.

5. Be grateful. Regardless of outcome, there is always a way to say thank you. Thank them for the gift, thank them for sharing their time, thank them for listening, you can even thank them for letting you know that this is not the right project for them at this time.

Your donors are drawn to the influence you have on their life, their family, their community and the world. When creating communications, providing volunteer opportunities and soliciting gifts, clearly connect their actions to your mission. Make your donors partners in building your church.

Arik Thormahlen has worked with numerous nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity of New Orleans, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley, Mount Sinai Health System, and The Hospital for Special Surgery in a fundraising career spanning nearly 20 years. He has extensive frontline fundraising experience working on capital campaigns and transformational gifts up to $10 million.

As a board member for AFP's New York City chapter and Chair for Fundraising Day in New York 2019, Arik is deeply committed to learning and sharing best practices in fundraising and promoting the growth of the overall philanthropic sector.


This article is part of the September 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Practical Stewardship