How to Nail the Soft Skills of Fundraising: The Face-to-Face Ask | npENGAGE

How to Nail the Soft Skills of Fundraising: The Face-to-Face Ask

By on Jul 13, 2017


Does the thought of making a six figure ask make your palms sweat?  Take heart fellow fundraiser, practice makes perfect. Or, to put it another way, confidence breeds competence.

Asking is part art and part science. Solid Face-to-face fundraising requires:

  • A true understanding of your donor
  • Composure during your delivery
  • Listening more than talking
  • Strong and effective body language

1. Understanding Your Donor

A face-to-face solicitation comes at the culmination of you gradually deepening your relationship with your donor to understand his or her passions and interests.  Armed with the knowledge of what they truly care about and a program that fulfills their interests, you are ready for the ask!  The cultivation step is truly king and if you need tools on how to get there, check out my post on cultivation steps to courting a 6 figure gift.

2. Composure During Your Delivery

One of the most challenging things in an ask is managing your own composure and delivery while simultaneously listening for verbal and nonverbal cues from your donor.  That is a lot happening at once!  Jerry Panas recommends your visit should be 25% talking and 75% listening. I recommend having your script down pat so you can focus your attention on your donor.

3. Listening More than Talking

The best way to practice an ask is to videotape yourself performing a mock ask. Only 7% of communication is verbal – a whopping 55% is your body language and eye contact! Strong and effective body language can help establish an immediate rapport with your audience and signal confidence in your message.  We know our donors want to feel special. Making and sustaining eye contact with them makes them feel as though you are speaking directly to them and that they are the most important person in the room during your conversation. Break eye contact with them and you’ve instantly broken that connection. Avoid eye contact and you give the impression of being untrustworthy.

4. Strong and Effective Body Language

Body language can betray you. You may be slouching because you’re tired, but people can read it as a sign you’re not interested. The great news is you can use your body language to intentionally project confidence.  Yes, you truly can “fake it until you make it” and Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk will show you how.

Practice truly makes perfect.

Try these 10 tips to nail the face-to-face ask:

  1. Smile early and often.  This helps you exude positive energy and confidence.
  2. Quiet your mind to become more present, sensitive and in the moment.  Try to become as conscious of the world around you as you are of yourself.
  3. Stand or sit tall.  Having bad posture will make you look like you lack confidence.
  4. Sit towards the front of your chair and lean in for the ask.
  5. Be physically accessible.  Don’t cross your arms.  That tells people you are unapproachable.
  6. Mind your voice inflections, speed of your speech, volume and tone.  If your voice inflects to a higher pitch at the end of your sentences like you are asking a question you will not sound confident or credible.
  7. Freely express your gratitude.  Thank you donor for taking your visit, for their prior giving and for responding to your ask when you make your ask, even if they say no!
  8. Be curious.  What books are in your donor’s bookshelf?  Pretend you are a cultural archaeologist.  Everything in your donor’s space reveals something about them.
  9. Make intentional small talk expressing an authentic interest in your donor.  Chat with them about their kids, vacations, or work projects.  Learning these details about their likes, lifestyle and hobbies help you deepen your relationship.
  10. Give sincere compliments.

This post has been updated from it’s original version.


When she was just 26 years old, Rachel Muir founded Girlstart, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls in math, science, engineering and technology. She was told as a child that girls are not good at math and science. One day, a major light bulb went off over her head and she decided to do something. She jumped in and started Girlstart in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card.  Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.  She veered away from the typical ED or CEO titles, and her business cards said, Rachel Muir, Girlstart, Fearless Leader.

A winner of Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life award, Rachel is a three time finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award, was named “Outstanding Fundraising Executive of the Year” by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and one of Fast Company Magazines “Fast 50″ Champions of Innovation.

Comments (1)

  • Gregory D says:

    These are all great tips for the large prospect one to one relationship built over time. Would really like to get your thoughts on the face to face solicitors on the street canvasing the general public for a monthly sustained / recurring gift or small cash gift. They don’t have the advantage of time, bookshelves or a nurtured relationship. They are strangers, selling a cause to strangers.

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