Asking Donors for Money – the Right Way

By Josh Gold

I’ve talked a lot about why it’s useful to think of marketing as a process. I’ve advocated for patient, long-term investment in developing a rapport with your supporters and cautioned not to push too hard, too quickly – rather, to wait for a payoff that can only be earned over time.

Today, I want to dig into that idea a little. How soon is too soon to ask for a donation? How do you know when the time is right?

To help illustrate the point, let’s try out an analogy. Let’s try to think about outreach and fundraising like a kind of dating. After all, marketing is, fundamentally, a form of relationship-building.

Getting digits

Sometimes, you meet potential donors at fundraising events where the context invites a more direct approach. Like many relationships, however, outreach often starts out as a connection between strangers. You put your organization out there, on the Internet or in the real world, and try to make it look interesting and appealing.

If someone responds, well, then you have a decision to make. How can you take this spark of interest to the next level?

Remember, you’ve only just met. Nobody is proposing marriage here; nobody is going to donate their life savings because they thought your viral video was entertaining.
In a dating framework, the socially appropriate move at this stage is to exchange numbers or set up some other frivolous, low-pressure interaction. Maybe they’ll call you, maybe they won’t; maybe you’ll run into each other again and have another shot.

There are no guarantees, but that’s because it’s only the first step – and that’s a very necessary thing.

So, if someone has clicked on your video out of the blue, testing the waters with your organization, what are some reasonable, socially appropriate asks that can help grow their investment in you?

  • Signing a petition or taking a poll – something that doesn’t demand too much time or energy
  • Asking them to learn more by visiting your website or checking out a longer video
  • Requesting a small donation, nothing too presumptuous

Getting a commitment

Once they’ve taken that first step, things get easier. You’ve already established a genuine connection. You’re still building the foundation, but you know that they’re interested in you to some extent. Your welcome is at least minimally assured.

This is when you go on the second, third, fourth, fifth dates – however many it takes to make things a little more official. If someone is occasionally visiting your website, keep asking them to sign up for your mailing list or newsletter. If the vibe is right, ask if they’re interested in setting up a meeting or a phone call to discuss how they can be a part of your ongoing projects. Track your interactions and see what response you get when you gradually escalate your asks.

Maintaining a healthy, longterm relationship

The process isn’t over once your lead joins the mailing list or signs up to make a recurring donation – just like the wedding isn’t the end of the relationship. You didn’t put in all that work just so you could throw one big party and then part ways; if you keep putting in the effort, you can keep enjoying this relationship for years to come.

You’re a team now, and that gives your supporters a reason to stay invested in your work, your struggles and successes.

Show them how important they are to your organization; let them know how much their help matters in your ability to make a difference.

  • Send out holiday greetings and other updates that keep them in the loop without making demands. You don’t want them to feel that you only talk to them when you want something from them.
  • Express your ongoing appreciation with thank-you videos and other messages. Keep the focus on them, not on you.
  • When you do ask them to contribute to the latest campaign, it won’t be coming out of the blue. It will be organic to the dynamic you’ve already established.

So, what do you think of the analogy? Does it help clarify what makes an ask realistic vs. unrealistic?

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars through video-based marketing. You can follow Josh and his team over at and To get more discussions like these right to your inbox, sign up for their newsletter.