NEWSLETTER: Expert tips on dealing with hot mics and fundraising

January 12, 2024

Dealing with Hot Mics:

Assume all mics are hot, and don’t say anything stupid.


Fundraising in Two Simple Steps:

  1. Find people who have money.
  2. Ask them for money.

Let’s break it down.

The first question you must ask is, who will give you money? People give money for three reasons.

  1. They have a personal relationship with the person who’s asking them.
  2. They are interested in your cause.
  3. They’re utilitarian. They have some reason they want to keep you happy.

Everything starts with group #1, your close friends and family – people who will give you money solely because you’re the one who’s asking.

So, let’s go through a step-by-step process for raising money from your friends and family.

Step 1:

Write out a list of everyone you know. Start with your closest friends and family. Don’t skip anyone. Brainstorm based on the question, “Who will give me money solely because I’m the one who’s asking?

(Step 1 never really ends. You should constantly be adding to your list.)

Step 2:

Next to each person’s name on your list, write out a reasonable amount of money that you think they’d be able to give you. Be specific. For some, it may be $20. For others, $2,000. The numbers vary based on how much money they have and how close a friend or family member they are.

(The numbers also vary based on their interest in your cause – group #2 above – and as we’ll see, you’ll have a chance to influence their level of interest.)

Step 3:

Do your homework.

Be prepared to tell a personal story. Why are you raising money for this particular cause? What experience has led you to this request for money?

Know your cause. Even though you’re focusing on people you think will give you money solely because you’re asking, you need to demonstrate passion and understanding. It’s a show of respect to the potential donor and tells them you’re serious and dedicated. Do your research in order to anticipate and prepare to answer tough questions.

Get specific about the process. How much money are you raising? When do you need to raise it by? What are the ways people can give? Are there any benefits to giving?

Step 4:

Script out your ask. (Yes, actually write out your script.)

Start with an “elevator pitch” – a script short enough that it could be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

  1. Get to the point immediately. “I am raising money for [CAUSE].”
  2. Describe the cause in a single sentence. “They’re a [ADJECTIVE] group that [DESCRIPTION].”
  3. Relate your personal connection. “I have [PERSONAL STORY WITH THIS CAUSE].”
  4. Describe the process. “I’m trying to raise [TOTAL AMOUNT] by [DEADLINE].”
  5. Explain why you’re asking them. “I am calling [GROUP]. [INDIVIDUALS] have already given.”
  6. Ask for a specific amount. “Would you be willing to give [AMOUNT YOU THINK THEY’LL GIVE.]”
  7. STOP TALKING and wait for them to answer.

Remember: This is your “elevator pitch.” It needs to be short. So, after you script it out, try to cut it down to 30-45 seconds.

Then practice it. Refine it and practice it again.

Step 5:

Prepare for and script out the components of a longer conversation.

This is not part of your elevator pitch! Remember, you have 30-45 seconds to ask for money, and then STOP TALKING. But most people will have questions, and your answers to specific questions will allow you to elaborate on your cause/connection based on the interests and concerns of the specific person you’re talking to.

Your goal is to get the contribution in a single conversation, so try to avoid saying, “I’ll get back to you.”

Questions and objections will usually fall into four major categories.

The Cause/Organization

Tell me more about the cause. How will this money be spent? Be specific.
Describe the NEED and how this group FILLS THE NEED. For example, “Hunger is a growing challenge in our community, and this group runs a soup kitchen that feeds the hungry.”

How big of an organization are they? What’s their budget? What is the scope of their work? Give specific details and statistics. For example, “This soup kitchen serves 231 meals every day.”

Is this a well-run organization? Who’s in charge? What experience do they have? What percentage of each donation goes to actually helping those in need (vs. towards overhead/marketing, etc.)?

Who can vouch for this organization? Does an independent group highly rate them? Were they profiled in the newspaper?

Your Connection to the Cause

Why are you asking me? Who else is raising money? Is this part of a group effort? (e.g., “I heard about this through my church, did my research, and signed up to help with their annual fundraising drive.”)

Who else are you asking? Who else has given? Nobody wants to be the only donor. Peer pressure works. Be prepared to list the names of people who have given – or who you’re planning to ask.

Why are you asking me for X amount? See steps 4-6 in the elevator pitch. You need to ask for the highest possible (reasonable) amount, BUT you can’t have people think they’re the only ones giving to a cause.

Be prepared to be flexible with your goals, depending on who you’re talking to. Don’t ask for $1,000 from someone towards a $2,000 goal. If you think they’ll give $1,000, revise your goal higher: “We’re required to raise $2,000, but my goal is to raise $10,000.”

What’s in it for Me?

Are there any benefits to me for donating to this cause? Is the contribution tax-deductible? Will donors be publicly recognized? Is there a donor recognition event? Thank-you gift?


How can I give?

You’ve gotten this far; don’t lose them now! Walk through the process of contributing. If they’re writing a check, have them get out their checkbook, write a check, and hand it to you. If they’re giving online, walk them through the process for contributing online. Be prepared.

Step 6:

Make the ask. You should be making phone calls unless you can sit down in person with a potential donor. It’s easy to say no to an email or text. It’s nearly impossible for someone to say no to you when you’re having an in-person or phone conversation with them.

Schedule “call time.”

Be disciplined. Call. Ask.

Keep track of responses. Perform necessary follow-up.

Following up.

Verbal thank you. (“Thank you so much. I truly appreciate your help with this. You’re supporting a great cause.”)

Referrals. (“Is there anyone else who you think I should ask?”)

Pledge follow-up. (If they didn’t make an immediate contribution but instead said, “You can count on me for X,” you need to follow up immediately with a reminder.)

Written thank you, with an update on your progress. (“Thank you again. We surpassed our goals.”)

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