Asking | Make the Iron Hot by Striking

This photo is from the website of National Geographic and is called, "Inishowen" (Dave Johnston).
Morning sun touches the hills and sand dunes of Inishowen, Ireland. Photograph by Dave Johnston.

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

-William Butler Yates, Irish poet (1865-1939)

I wrote this as a post or thought piece on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for a prior St. Patrick’s Day. I like it so much, however, that I decided to refresh and keep it as a primary article.

St. Patrick is remembered as a humble, pious and gentle man. He feared nothing, not even death, as Catholic Online reports in its Saints & Angels section. I suspect if he were alive today, he would not fear asking for donations, either.

The quote above by revered Irishman William Butler Yates brings to mind the thought that while nonprofit organizations must be careful not to solicit donations without proper advance preparation, when donors become interested in the work of a nonprofit organization and they are genuinely excited about being involved and helping, nonprofits should not be shy about asking for financial or other assistance. One must make the iron hot by striking! 

I have never found a donor to be insulted by being asked. Most are flattered that you would think of them as able to help, even if they cannot make the commitment your nonprofit ultimately hopes for. Yet, one of the most common fears voiced by my nonprofit colleagues (staff and volunteers), is that they find it hard (even terrifying) to “ask.”

Iron Blog Post

But I do not suggest you be irresponsible. For all but a few entrepreneurial-minded prospective major gift donors, “asking” at your first meeting – before you know the prospective donor well and you have adequately explained the needs of your organization – can be disastrous.

Early in my career, I was asked to attend a private meeting with the Executive Director of my nonprofit and the owner of an oil company. That we were allowed to visit at all was nothing short of a miracle. I attended to listen, take notes and follow up afterward.

Once the meeting began, the Executive Director blurted out that he was not going to be shy: the nonprofit needed lots of money for its projects and that is why we were there. The meeting was courteous but did not last long, and I do not recall the nonprofit ever heard back. On my own, I wrote a hand-written apology. I had no idea our Executive Director would be so blunt. My heart stopped during that meeting!

I have noticed since moving back to Austin, Texas that quite a few nonprofits are fashioning themselves to be more like business startups. If you are one of those and you prefer to “pitch” you project, read Neil Patel for Entrepreneur, “13 Tips on How to Deliver a Pitch Investors Simply Can’t Turn Down” (2015). You must be prepared and well organized to pull off a first class pitch.

Qgiv is a smart and growing online gift processing giving company with which I have worked with great success. In, “8 Incredible Tips to Ask for Donations in Person,” they provide advice for the modern era:

  1. Do research beforehand.
  2. Form a strong relationship before you make your ask.
  3. Meet them where they are.
  4. Practice your pitch.
  5. Communicate in a variety of ways.
  6. Be genuine, direct, and specific.
  7. Be prepared for rejections.
  8. Say thank you more than once. 

And then there will be times when you will receive without asking. In an article written when I first launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, I discuss anonymous giving. Follow the link to read, Listening to Donors and “Serendipity” Happens. If you have done your work well, it is hoped you will inspire donors capable of funding the good work you are doing. And many of them prefer to remain anonymous.

While I am on an Irish theme, I wanted to point out a terrific nonprofit support organization that serves Irish fundraisers, Charities Ireland Institute. They seem to have both a modern and traditional approach to fundraising, which is my style exactly.

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