For many, this maxim is something that parents use or we hear from someone trying to teach us a life lesson. The phrase encourages us to be proactive. And while it’s true, there’s a point at which asking for too much or asking too often turns people off. The opposite problem, of course, is not asking at all, which is not the subject of this post, but it’s also a big problem. In the fundraising world, there are databases and individuals who specialize in making sure the “ask” is appropriate, meaning it’s an amount the donor is capable of giving and yet represents a stretch for them.
Asking for too much money (whether it’s because they don’t have the capacity or the organization isn’t high enough on their list of giving priorities) can backfire. It’s usually caused by several factors: not enough information about the donor, too few donors, an unrealistic goal, or insufficient fundraising capacity and/or expertise.
Not enough information about the donor can result from not spending enough time with them (stewardship) or not pooling and maintaining information from within the organization (internal systems). When you’re looking at major gifts, it’s critical to treat those relationships carefully or you risk losing them altogether. Having too few donors is very common in new and smaller organizations and usually is a function of not devoting enough time to fundraising. Setting unrealistic goals generally comes from focusing on the result without assessing the support needed to meet the goal. And if an organization doesn’t have the expertise and understanding of the fundraising process, it’s easy to make mistakes that result in losing donors.
Here are some simple tips to prevent over-asking:
- Assign one point person for each donor or category of donors. Typically this is the person or team responsible for fundraising, but in smaller organizations it can be the Executive Director, a committee or a Board member.
- Make sure that fundraising is part of the internal culture of the organization. Many people don’t like asking for money. The fact is that there are any different roles in fundraising, including making introductions, building relationships, and asking for money. Organizations that embed fundraising in their culture and provide adequate support to the process have the greatest success in fundraising.
- Set realistic goals for fundraising based on your organization’s fundraising history. These goals have to be based on information and capabilities rather than need.
- Ensure that the organization is ready. If your organization’s needs change, like when you’re preparing for a capital campaign, make sure you have the tools and resources in place to help you meet the bigger goal.
Fundraising is the fuel that feeds your organization, especially if you don’t have income sources built into your model such as program fees, income from rentals or retail sales. While it’s true that if you don’t ask, you won’t get, it’s equally important that you don’t ask too often or for too much.