Last week, while in the checkout line of a well-known national grocery chain (the one infamous for taking all or most of your paycheck) I was asked, “How would you feel about rounding up to the next dollar for charity?” A quick glance at the register told me that the ask was for 21 cents. It was at this exact moment that my mind started rapidly churning. Picture an extremely long thought bubble forming above my head as the cashier waited for my response. Below are some of my initial reactions:
“Please ask for money not how I feel.”
“Please ask directly not passively.”
“Please ask passionately so I want to say yes.”
“Please ask for at least $1.”
“Please tell me what the money is for and the impact it will make.”
“Please don’t have your mission and values plastered everywhere and then act completely out of alignment with them.”
(End of thought bubble.)
Now, in an attempt to convince you that I am completely insufferable and do not possess an ounce of empathy, my response was, “no thank you.” I know it was only 21 cents. I know this is the area I live and breathe in. And I know that this money is needed to create change. So, if I know all of these things how could I possibly say no? Well, I will get to that, but before I continue with my reasoning, let’s go back to the situation at hand.
I realize that I am the 497 customer of the day to pass through her line. I understand that this is not her favorite part of her job. I get that she did not get to pick an organization that is meaningful to her. But, that being said, this business has publicly stated that it will holistically address the needs of the community and the organizations they serve. And if you make this commitment, you are obligated to craft an ask and conduct the necessary training to support and exemplify that commitment.
So back to the original question – why, after knowing all of this, did I say no? I said no because I could not reward that ask. Alright, maybe I am insufferable, I promise I’m working on it. But my flaws aside, I just could not support an ask that was so poorly crafted and delivered.
I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking “How can we possibly be responsible for the ask someone delivers when they are so far removed from our organization?” The answer is you can’t. You can’t always control how someone articulates your message, nor do I expect you to. The real issue is that this often occurs within organizations and with nonprofit professionals too. People who live and breathe this information, just like me, also make this detrimental mistake and build an ask that is weak and bordering on apologetic.
“Anything you do is appreciated.”
“No gift is too small.”
“Would you consider giving a gift?”
These are asks grounded in the fear of no.
Instead of creating asks that are rooted in the fear of rejection consider the following guidelines.
Remember that anything for the lowest common denominator is not enough. Ask for something specific that will make a difference. The reality of the “nothing is too small’ approach is that nothing will be impacted. Is that really okay? Is that really how we are going to change the world?
Ask for something bigger because you are setting the base of what you will receive. Consider if you are asking this person to think or to actually do something. Is thinking really what you need, or do you need action? Assuming it is action, ask for it specifically.
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