Awkward for a Cause: Top Tips on Asking for Donations

Ready or not, school is back on and it’s full steam ahead with team fundraising, booster clubs, yearbooks, and everything in between. And guess which parent skipped the meeting and got assigned to ask for donations?

Yeah, that’s you. You’ve been volun-told and you don’t know where to start and asking for money is awkward and how did this happen to you!?

Have no fear, because I am here to get you through it.

My Background: Awkward Cold-Call Queen

I have been making horrendously awkward, painful cold calls since I graduated from college. Starting with a job in public relations where I cold-called reporters to pitch stories on my clients. All with varying degrees of success, and all with very high levels of existential dread and anxiety.

When I moved to Wichita,  I was the American Cancer Society Community Manager for our local Relay for Life program. Besides helping volunteers plan the events, I did a LOT Of asking for sponsorships.

Then, I started working at Texoma Community Credit Union, and am now the one responsible for managing our donations budget each year, and fielding and processing requests. (It’s such an honor to get to do this! Although we can’t donate to everything, being able to support a worthy cause and make someone’s day and treat them well when THEY are doing something scary is very rewarding for me.)

During that entire time I worked at the last two jobs, I’ve been a volunteer for the Junior League of Wichita Falls. But this year, I took on a new role – Fund Development Chair. Which means I’m right back at, asking for donations once more.

Having spent a lot, lot, LOT of time on both sides, I present to you the basics of what I know.

What People Asking For Money Want To Know

When I’m making calls to new potential sponsors, here are the top things I want to know. If you happen to be on the receiving end of the ask, here are some tips to help us help you:

Who is the best contact?

We don’t want to be intrusive. We don’t want to be cold-calling and annoying your CEO! Who is the person that vets these requests? We would be happy to work through them. That is why filling out contact sheets/commitment forms and sending them in with your donation check is so important – it lets us know who we should contact directly in the future.

What is your preferred form of communication?

Email, phone calls, snail mail, in-person delivery – we’re happy to do whatever works best for YOU.

What time of year is the best to approach you for an ask?

We want to get on your radar before you budget gets stretched. We know supporting our organization isn’t top of mind and you have a million other things going on. Let us know when is the right time to get you the info you need to make a decision!

What Sponsors/Donors Want To Know

Why should I donate?

What is your mission? Is there a specific need in our community you are addressing? Are you a reputable organization? 

Do you patronize my business or have a stake in what I do at my organization? (I will tell you at TCCU this matters for us! We are owned by our members, so if a member comes to us and asks us to support their cause, we are more likely to donate it to if we are able. Our members get a vote in how we conduct our business, so their opinions matter a lot.)

What will I get in return?

Will this sponsorship give me recognition for my brand? Will it foster goodwill among your influential supporters? Will it just be warm fuzzies and a tax write-off?

From a marketing director’s perspective, I look for opportunities that will get my business SEEN in the public as being philanthropic and supporting worthwhile causes. Because then it’s a double win – we’re supporting something that is deserving, and we are gaining good publicity for our brand. Not everyone views donations this way, but it is something to bear in mind if your main contact is a marketing person.

Who do I make the check out to? Where do I mail the check?

You would be surprised how hard I sometimes have to work to give people free money.

It is SO important to come prepared. When you make the ask – have some official documents to give the potential sponsor that has all the basic logistical and contact information they could possibly need, so they don’t have to work harder to make that donation happen. For me personally, I need something I can send to our accounting department for record-keeping and audit purposes, so I need as much information as possible on where the money is going.

Tips for Reaching Out to Sponsors

Do your research first.

Especially in light of everything going on with COVID. Is the business you are asking for money thriving right now? Are they struggling? Would it be a bad time for an ask?

Have they donated in the past? Be sure to acknowledge that in your conversations.

Try to find out who the right person to talk to is before you go in. Ask around if you know someone who knows someone at the business you are approaching. In a way, it’s a lot like submitting a job application. If someone else can vouch for you, it goes a long way towards your credibility and getting seen by the people making decisions.

Thank you’s matter.

The more personal the better – it shows that actual humans noticed the donation, and it made a real difference to them. Even if it wasn’t the largest donation – a thank you shows the nonprofit or school didn’t just view it wasn’t just a drop in the bucket on the way to their goal.

Don’t rely on snail mail.

Especially if you are approaching new sponsors. It’s easy to send a mass mailing – and sponsors know that’s exactly what it is – a shotgun approach.

It’s harder to make a call or take a visit or personalize a packet and drop it off. But again, the personal interaction highlights how important it is to you, and gives sponsors an opportunity to ask questions about something they’ve never donated to before.

If a sponsor repeatedly supports you year after year, an email or snail mail is perfectly acceptable. If they’re like me, chances are they already have it in their budget, they’re just waiting on your new sponsor packet to come in.

Just don’t let it be your only communication all year. Send a thank you or impact letter communicating what a difference their donation made. Don’t let your ask be the only time they hear from you.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The best advice I can give you is something my mom told me that it’s taken me 12 years of asking for money to internalize – “It never hurts to ask.”

There is so much fear and awkwardness around it, but the bottom line is that the worst they can say is no. And if that’s the case, ask if there is a better time to approach them in the future. And if there’s not, log it in your notes, and move on.

For me, it’s helped to get over my fear to turn it into a game I want to win. How much money can I raise for an organization I love? Every time I overcome my anxiety and pick up the phone, I’m making a difference in my community.

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