Overcoming FOTA (Fear of the Ask)


How to Connect with Individual Donors

If you’ve ever spent any time in investing circles or on social media, you may be familiar with the term FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” This is defined as “a feeling of anxiety or insecurity over the possibility of missing out on something, (such) as an event or opportunity.” I recently learned that FOMO also has a sister acronym, FOBO, or “fear of a better option,” such as when you spend countless hours searching for the perfect hotel room. This got me thinking that we really need an acronym for another basic human fear, the fear of asking for money (FOAFM?) or, more specific to the field of fundraising, the fear of the ask (FOTA). Perhaps these acronyms will never really catch on, but it’s undeniable that for novice fundraisers, making the leap from researching a list of prospects to actually asking for a donation can seem daunting. So, how do you get over FOTA?

Here are some ideas:

Understand the donor mindset.   

In a recent article, we provided some suggestions on how to seek out high level donors. Once you have identified these potential supporters, there are some strategies that can help you reach out and make a connection with them. The first step is to understand what motivates them to give.

Through an analysis of biographical data, Giving Pledge letters, and other sources Lipman Hearne has identified five Megadonor Archetypes: The Closer, The Strategist, The Enthusiast, The Explorer, and The World-Builder. Identifying your donor’s archetype may help you to take the right approach with them. For example, The Closer “is skilled at seeing and appreciating golden opportunities—and is comfortable taking calculated risks” whereas The Explorer “is motivated to learn, experiment, and make a difference while avoiding missteps.” Drawing on these archetypes, you may be more comfortable asking a risk-tolerant donor such as The Closer to help fund an innovative pilot project, whereas you may consider asking the more risk-averse Explorer to support a tried-and-true program.

Not only does the Megadonor Archetypes tool provide a personality profile for each archetype, but it also includes conversation starter questions to help you break the ice. For instance, your conversation with The Closer may start off with, “What are some game-changing breakthroughs you’ve witnessed in your lifetime? Who or what do you think made those things possible?”

Learn the basics of giving psychology.

We’ve all heard the saying, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” This is perhaps the most widely-known tenet of giving psychology. So how can giving psychology provide insights into what makes individual donors tick?

Claire Axelrad penned a series of articles for the GuideStar Blog called “Eight Ways to Use Giving Psychology to Raise More Money (Part 1 and Part 2).” These articles delve into key psychological principles related to the art of persuasion and provide concrete tips for how fundraisers and nonprofit organizations can utilize these principles, both online and offline, to boost donations.

Let’s examine a couple of the more familiar principles. The first is the aforementioned principle of reciprocity (“scratch my back”). According to this principle, fundraisers should first consider how they can help out their donors, not vice versa, as this creates a feeling of indebtedness and thus motivates giving. Helping out donors may take the form of small gifts, such as a list of useful tips or even a coupon for a free cup of coffee.

Another interesting principle we are already familiar with is that of scarcity (“FOMO”). According to the article, people are wired to avoid the loss of missing out on something. So, how can you use this to help boost individual giving? Axelrad suggests strategies such as sending potential donors an invitation to an exclusive event or announcing that the first 25 people to retweet your post will be entered into a raffle. The author stresses that the key to this approach is to “highlight what will be lost if action is not taken.”

These are just a few fascinating insights into how giving psychology can help to advance your fundraising efforts. We highly recommend reading both parts of Axelrad’s article to learn about the remaining principles: commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, anchoring, and priming.


Prepare for your in-person meeting.

Nervous about meeting with a potential donor in person? Not to worry. With the right preparation, you can get to “the ask” with minimal stress.

Blackbaud’s eBook, The Art of the Ask: How to Ask Major Donors for Large Gifts to Your College or University, provides some useful tips (applicable to fundraisers in any field) on how to go about this. It covers basic principles to help you prepare for your meeting (i.e. “People want to understand where their money is going.”) and lays out “The Anatomy of the Ask,” a six-step formula for any donor meeting, starting with small-talk and ending with “the ask.” Perhaps the most integral part of this process is mastering the art of establishing a connection with your donor and then appealing to them on an emotional level in the lead-up to your request. The eBook also includes a sample dialogue to illustrate this six-step process.

For additional guidance on donor meetings, CharityHowTo offers a couple of recorded webinars to help you out. “Amazingly Successful Face-To-Face Solicitations: A Step-By-Step Guide to Asking in Person” provides an in-depth roadmap for successful donor meetings. Some of the topics covered include how to take charge of the meeting, what types of questions to ask, and how to respond to resistance. If you haven’t yet secured a visit from a potential donor, you may want to check out “How Even Small Nonprofits Can Raise Big Gifts: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Winning Relationships with Your Donors.” In addition to helping the viewer create a plan and prepare for a donor visit, this recorded webinar discusses what to say when arranging a meeting and how to attract donors who are hesitant to meet in person. 


Cultivate genuine relationships.

Taking a big-picture view of the donor cultivation process, the most crucial element is to build a relationship with donors that is based on mutual trust and understanding. We recommend two books to help you nurture these types of relationships as the foundation of your overall fundraising strategy.

The book entitled It's NOT JUST about the Money: How to Build Authentic Major Donor Relationships lays out a process for establishing and managing a major gift program that is grounded in putting relationships with donors first. Another useful resource is The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fund-Raising, a book which aims to rethink traditional fundraising techniques and show how “open-spirited, curiosity-driven, person-to-person connections lead to discovery, growth—and often amazing results.”

After all, it’s important to remember that the act of giving is most often motivated by an authentic desire to help humanity, a desire which is shared by both fundraiser and donor alike.

Action steps you can take today
  • Click on the links above to learn more about how to cultivate relationships with donors.
  • Visit the Pathfinder website to discover additional resources on the topic of individual giving.