Asking for money in person… is anything scarier to first-time politicians? Many candidates will do anything they can to avoid having to make an ask. They’ll talk about holding events. They’ll ask about sending out a fundraising letter. They’ll look at ways to raise money online.
All of these are good, solid ways to raise money for a political campaign, but none of them can compete with sitting down across the table from someone (or, in some cases, on the phone with someone) and asking them to make a sizable donation to the campaign.
No campaign, no matter how small or large, can raise the money it needs to win without the candidate, campaign manager, and others (but primarily the candidate) making asks. If you are ever thinking of taking a job as a fundraiser for a campaign and the candidate tells you that he or she “wants to focus on the issues,” (and not make any asks) then run… the campaign is doomed.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how to make a successful ask, and get someone to say “yes!” to donate to your political campaign.
Who Should Make the Ask?
Before looking at the anatomy of a great ask, let’s get this question out of the way… exactly who should be making the ask? If your campaign has a prospect and you think he or she will be willing to make a donation, who should call them up or go meet with them to ask for a donation?
Most of the time, it should be the candidate. The candidate is the fundraiser in chief for the campaign, and donors want (and expect) to talk to the candidate directly, particularly if they are making a major donation to the campaign.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. In large campaigns, the candidate often only has time to make asks to major donors, so mid-level donors will need to be asked by someone else. This “someone else” is usually the campaign manager, finance director, or a “surrogate” or advisor to the campaign.
If your campaign has a strong Finance Committee, the members of that committee should also feel comfortable making asks, particularly to folks that are within their own networks. Likewise, anyone who agrees to help raise money for the campaign should be going out to make asks from their business associates, friends, family, and neighbors.
But… in most cases… the ask should be made by the candidate.
In Person or On the Phone?
Another question many candidates and campaigns have is whether the ask should be made in person or on the phone. In political fundraising, there is a simple hierarchy when it comes to asks:
Asks made in person are the most effective.
They are more effective than phone calls,
Which are more effective than snail mail letters,
Which are more effective than e-mails.
So, if you can, you should make your ask in person. If you can’t do it in person, you should make the ask over the phone. Snail mail letters and e-mails are best left for low-dollar donors.
Of course, every campaign is different. In some campaigns, the candidate has the time to call every donor personally to make an ask, and to meet with the largest donors in person. In other campaigns, the candidate can meet only with the top 1% of donors, with the finance director making in-person asks to the rest of the high-level donors, and everyone else getting letters. It depends on how much time your candidate has and how many donor prospects you have.
That being said, if the candidate says he or she doesn’t have time to do lots of fundraising calls and meetings, and isn’t spending at least 50% of their time on fundraising, then the campaign’s priorities are out of whack and will need to be adjusted in order to win the election.
How Much Should I Ask For?
One thing that often stops candidates and fundraisers dead in their tracks is the question, “How much should I ask this donor for?” The campaign then spends hours debating the “right amount,” worried that an ask that is too large or small will somehow offend the donor and ruin the campaign.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never, ever seen a donor relationship ruined because the candidate asked for too much or too little. You should never skip an ask because you aren’t sure how much to ask for. And, you should never spend more than 10 minutes deciding on how much to ask for.
If you aren’t sure how much to ask a donor for, do some common sense research. What job do they have? What job does their spouse have? What neighborhood do they live in? Where did they go to school? Where do their kids go to school? Do they belong to any clubs? What are their hobbies? Where do they vacation? How much have they given to other campaigns? How about to local or national non-profits?
Always ask for more than you think the person will give.
It’s ok if you don’t know the exact answers to all of these questions. Just do the best you can. Make some guesses. Then, figure out how much you think they could afford to give, if they really wanted to. Not how much they will give, but how much they could afford to give, if they wanted.
Then add 10% and make it a nice, even number. Thus, if you think someone could afford to give $4,000… add 10% and make it $4,400. Then make it a nice even number, like $4,500.
Remember, always err on the side of asking for too much, not too little. If you ask for too much, people can always say “no” and then suggest a lower number. But very, very few people will offer to give you more than you asked for if you make an ask that is too low. Always ask for more than you think people can give.
The Three BE’s of a Successful Ask
Ok, now that we know who should make the ask and how much they should ask for… what is the best way to make a successful ask (meaning… one where the donor says “yes”)?
In order to make a successful ask for your political campaign, your ask must follow the “three BE’s”:
First, your ask must BE a question. Wishy-washy asks don’t work. Don’t say, “I really hope you will make a donation to our campaign!” or “Please send in a check if you want to help.” These aren’t asks, they are statements. Your ask must be a question… something like, “Would you be able to make a $1,000 donation to help us win?”
Second, your ask must BE for the person to take action. Don’t ask the person to “help.” Don’t say, “Can I count on you?” These are questions, but they aren’t asks. Your asks need to call on the person to take a specific action. Instead say, “Would you be willing to make a $50 donation?” or, “Would you be able to volunteer for 10 hours per week?”
Third, your ask must BE for a specific amount. Don’t ask someone, “Would you be willing to donate as much as you can?” or “Would you be able to host a fundraising event for us?” The best asks are very specific. Say, “Will you make a $500 donation before this Friday?” or, “Can you host a fundraising event for me in the second week of June?”
Good, successful fundraising asks are questions that ask the person to take a specific action and for a specific amount.
You Can Do This!
Asks are a major part of every political fundraising effort. Don’t let that fact discourage you… you can do this! I know, because I have worked with dozens of candidates who thought they couldn’t do it, and then went on to be great at making fundraising asks.
Think of your political heroes, either from today or from the past. If they ran for office, they had to make fundraising asks. Chances are they didn’t get into politics in order to fundraise, but like you, they wanted to make a difference. Their campaigns were important, and thus so was their fundraising. They did it, and so can you.
Now, get out there and make some asks!