ASKphobia: How to Overcome Ask Aversion

Published by Rory Green on

askingformoneyWhat is your biggest fear?

I’ve often heard that more people are afraid of public speaking than of death. In the non-profit world, I think more fundraisers are afraid of asking for money than the death of their organization.

I work in major gifts. I ask people of means to invest large amounts of money in the cause I represent. I love it. But, I find it shocking how often fundraisers say to me: “I could NEVER do what you do” or “How can you ask someone to give YOU all that money”. I’ve heard similar objections to direct mail asks, door-to-door programs and asking donors to consider legacy gifts.

Fundraisers everywhere are ASK-averse, ASK-phobic, and worse yet anti-ASK.

If the thought of asking someone for money, in person, over the phone or in a letter, makes you flop sweat – I hope these five simple tips help you out. Remember that asking for a donation isn’t just not awful – it can be really, really fun.

1. Get to know your beneficiaries
Spend some time with your program delivery areas. Get to know the people making your good work possible. See and meet the people who benefit from the money you raise. It is really easy to lose that behind a fast approaching fiscal year end and high fundraising targets. Fundraising is so much more than a number on a spread sheet. Spending time with the people and places that benefit from your mission delivery will remind you that you aren’t asking for money for yourself, but for the beneficiaries and that really and truly deserve external support.

2. Watch someone else do it
Accompany a seasoned major gifts fundraiser on meetings. Get to know the way they approach an ask. Seeing it done in person really helped me when I was starting out. Why? Because often what we are most afraid of is the unknown. Neuroscience tells us that our brains have to work extra hard when there is missing information. Getting a better understanding of how real asks work makes thinking about doing an ask less scary. If accompanying someone on an ask meeting isn’t an option, read some asks – direct mail, proposals, newsletters – you’ll see how beautiful and emotional an ask can be, and how it’s not at all like begging.

3. Role play
Recently I saw Guy Mallabone present on “exercising your ask muscle”. He had us all role play making an ask to another fundraiser acting as the potential donor. After the role play was over, he asked us how we felt being asked. The answers were surprising. People felt special, valued, important, understood. It was eye opening. Being asked to give feels good. I want donors to feel special, valued and important. Putting yourself in the shoes of a donor helps you realize asking and being asked is a joyful experience.

4. Say Thank You
Call donors to say nothing but thank you. If they feel like talking, ask them why they give. I have met many happy donors who are grateful for the chance to get involved and are proud of what they have accomplished with their giving. I have a note above my desk from a donor that I show to every ask-averse person I meet. It says: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give back”. That’s right – the donor thanked ME. It is a lovely reminder that, when you ask the right person, at the right time, for the right amount of money, for the right project, they are happy to give. It makes the thought of fundraising a lot less scary.

5. Give
buythemacoffeeTake $5 out of your wallet. Go find someone, a friend, a co-worker, a stranger, and spend that money on them. Do something nice and unexpected – like buying them a coffee or chocolate. You will quickly learn what Michael Norton’s research from around the world has proven: money CAN buy happiness, when you spend it helping other people. There is a tremendous amount of research on this – helping others help us. It is so important to remember when fundraising: giving to others makes you happy. You are a bringer of happiness and joy when you present a potential donor with opportunities to help others.

We owe it to our causes, and our donors to get over our fear of asking. We need to ban ASKphobia from our organizations and create non-profits where we love to ask.

I read once that when Steve Jobs was recruiting Pepsi executive John Sculley to come run Apple – he asked him “do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Well fundraisers, we don’t have to make our living asking kids to buy sugar water. We get to ask people to change the world. So get out there and ASK.

Are you ASK-phobic? What are the things that scare you about asking for money? Or, how did you overcome your fear of asking? I want to hear from you.

Rory Green

Rory Green has been fundraising since the age of 10, when she volunteered to help run her school’s annual Bike-A-Thon for juvenile cancer research. Fundraising became her vocation at 14, when she lost a friend to Leukemia. Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the Associate Director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society. Her passion is donors. How to listen to them. How to talk to them. How to help them feel better about themselves through philanthropy than they ever thought possible. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief.


Colt · May 26, 2014 at 15:56

Excellent perspective. Thanks!!

    Rory · May 27, 2014 at 01:35

    Thank you Colt :)

Kate · May 27, 2014 at 20:06


    Rory · May 28, 2014 at 17:45

    Thanks Kate. I think it is also OK to admit that asking scares everyone once and awhile – but as one of my favorite movie – The Princess Diaries – says: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear.”

siobhan aspinall · May 27, 2014 at 21:09

So excellent Rory! Hanging with the programs team makes your approach about the mission, not about being afraid of asking for things. Yum! Siobhan : )

    Rory · May 28, 2014 at 17:48

    Thanks Siobhan!

    It’s so important to keep mission front and center in all you do – and leave your ego (and yourself really) out of the equation. I always see my job about bringing the donor close to the mission – often the donor will say “how can I help” before I even make an ask.

Tanya · May 27, 2014 at 22:20

Thank you for this good, concise article.

    Rory · May 28, 2014 at 17:48

    Thank you Tanya!

Simona Biancu · May 30, 2014 at 16:15

I like your post, Rory! The ASK-phobia is among the main difficulties I meet during my consultancies.
I agree especially with the tip number 1.
The feeling of “I’m begging for money and I don’t want to” is something I often cope with. Meeting prospects and donors is a great opportunity to cultivate a relationship – it’s among the most relevant reasons why I’m in the fundraising field – but I know that it can cause some pain.
I’m going to use your tips, sharing them when needed.
Thanks for this excellent article!

    Rory · June 2, 2014 at 18:41


    Thank you for your comment! I hope these tips help you – and most importantly I hope the money you raise really helps people.

    It is so essential that as fundraisers we stay connected to the mission – it is like fuel , and will keep you going even against the most stone faced potential donor.


Helen Brown · June 2, 2014 at 19:08

Terrific article, Rory. I love your quote “money CAN buy happiness, when you spend it helping other people.” That’s so true! As you point out, many in fundraising who are afraid to ask just don’t believe that for many donors the act of giving is a joyful and transforming experience. But when they find that thing *they* believe in – and are asked to give – *then* they get it. Thanks so much for your post.

Terry Hayward · August 18, 2014 at 19:17

Fabulous piece Rory and I love the Steve Jobs story – I’ve never heard that!

Fabiola J · September 12, 2014 at 23:24

I love that I found your blog serendipitous falling through the hole that often times is clicking that one more link. [Kivi’s non-profit mix links newsletter]. Although my job does not involve major donors, I do ask a lot of people though social media to give, to join, to come, to give again. I love sharing everything about what we do, but when it comes to ask to give I know I hesitate. Even asking for personal support (which is required of most everyone in the organization) it’s intimidating and definitely not one of my favorite aspects of working on non-prof, but I believe your perspective it’s right on, which helps me change mine.

Diana · November 3, 2014 at 16:58

Thanks for the incredible article Rory!

I have a question. What are the words best used for asking? Please, Give, Help, Support? Is there any word we should not use at all?. Thanks!

Spinner Tools · May 4, 2023 at 07:00

Very nice, indeed.

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