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Of all the fundraising advice I give, “make the ask” is the phrase I find myself repeating most often. This advice may appear simplistic, but it addresses what is the Achilles’ heel of many candidates and campaign fundraising structures.
Oftentimes candidates or fundraisers truly believe they are making “the ask” because they're saying all the information regarding their request, but they leave out the part they’re most unfamiliar with. They’re checking all of the seemingly correct boxes while leaving off the most important item on the list: Directly and concisely asking for what they want.
An inexperienced candidate will often engage in small talk, discuss the campaign, ask about a particular issue that’s important to the donor, maybe even comment about how they really need to raise money. Still, they’ll neglect to make "the ask." They'll come away from the interaction believing they have successfully impressed the donor, when in fact they've lost their perfect moment, and possibly lost that donor’s respect as well.
The major donors you want to support your campaign are business leaders, entrepreneurs and dealmakers. They respect direct behavior and understand that by giving money to your campaign, they’re investing in a cause, candidate or movement. These types of people will respect you more if you ask for their support directly and politely, however they could easily think you less credible if you make innuendos, assumptions or beat around the bush.
What makes “the ask” effective? In my opinion, an ask must have a question, an amount and a date in order to qualify as a successful request. Without these elements you aren’t asking, merely suggesting. Here are some examples:Instead of: “I’d love to have your support.” Say: “Will you support my campaign by giving me $1.000 by the end of January?” Instead of: “I’m looking for people like you to donate and help me hit my goals.” Say: “I need to raise $10,000 by the end of the week in order to make our new TV ad buy – can you help by contributing $500 today?” Instead of: “I hope you can attend my fundraising breakfast next week.” Say: “I’m having a fundraising breakfast next week. Tickets are $100 and it will be a great time. Can you and your wife attend?”
As with all parts of campaigning, the skill of directly asking for financial support improves with practice. Remind yourself (or your candidate) that every fundraising call, meeting or opportunity is another chance to perfect your version of “the ask.” If you continue to focus on making sure every conversation includes a polite, respectful “ask” – you’ll see great improvements in your fundraising.
Kirsten Borman is a nationally recognized Republican fundraiser and founder of KB Strategic Group, a Washington, D.C.-based firm specializing in personalized fundraising consulting. Her clients have included several members of Congress, candidates for federal office, PACs, committees and gubernatorial candidates.
A version of this post was also published on Kirsten’s blog.