Six Steps to Asking for a Ton of Money

Published on by Jamie Lee.

Photo by Jeremy Yap via Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Yap via Unsplash

In 2016, American charities received a record-breaking $373 BILLION dollars in donations. It's equivalent to the annual GDP of Austria. It's also the result of a great deal of well-prepared and persistent asks. 

I recently spoke at Fundraising Day New York, the largest conference for charity fundraisers. From attending sessions on major gifts (donations ranging anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars and more), it dawned on me that fundraisers use the same collaborative negotiation strategies that we here at She Negotiates teach.

Our clients use these strategies to engage and influence employers and clients. Fundraisers use them to engage and influence wealthy donors and foundations. 

These six steps to asking for large sums of money can apply to any negotiator, regardless of whether for-profit or non-profit: 

  1. Leadership: having a clear vision 
  2. Strong case: for why and how much 
  3. Communication: listening and delivering a consistent message
  4. Urgency: addressing why now
  5. Researching the other side: using knowledge to fuel empathy
  6. Anchoring: or asking a specific $ amount 


Yes, you are a leader

A receptionist, a nurse, a customer service rep, someone who has "manager" in their title, someone who doesn't -- your title doesn't matter.

It's not about whether you have people reporting to you. It's about self-leadership and your vision, your capacity for taking action and motivating others to realize that vision.  

Not sure yet on what your vision is? Then first build your leadership foundation by taking these five key actions - coincidentally, the same actions that can help you close your wage gap and infuse much-needed oxygen into your career. 

So I tried asking for a million dollars

I've once asked and received a $20K salary increase in my previous career, and I asked for a million dollars during a role-play exercise at Fundraising Day.  

At this workshop, I was tasked with coming up with a fictional charity to be funded by a fictional donor. With just one minute to prepare, I scribbled the following: 

  • Brief explanation of project: She Negotiates Academy will provide valuable, hands-on training in the art of self-advocacy, communication and negotiation for promising young women. 
  • Your gift of $1MM will develop the potential of tomorrow's leaders; provide training that equips women leaders to resolve conflict without escalation and resentment; and help close the gender wage gap and improve the lives of women, their children, families and communities. 

Then I was paired with another attendee, who assumed the role of my fabulously wealthy donor. I articulated my vision, as outlined above. I heard myself saying, "You know, the timing is now, because it's time to go big or go home."

My fictional donor smiled. He asked to quantify how the $1MM donation would be used. 

That's where I got a little stuck. 

In the role-play debrief, I received valuable feedback that a breakdown would have helped. It doesn't have to be exact to the penny, but unambiguous. I don't have to have perfect certainty, but a concrete plan. For example, I could have made the case that

  • $500K was needed for facilities,
  • $250K for curriculum development, and 
  • $250K to recruit, screen and induct an additional 25 new scholars to the Academy.

Hence the negotiation teacher was taught a lesson, the consultant consulted (enter here quip about cobbler's daughter having no shoes).

This was an excellent reminder. A strong case is a compelling narrative that includes a clear breakdown of how that money is going to be accounted for. 

Ask. Believe. Receive. 

One of the best negotiation advice I've received is that asking is a muscle. You can build that muscle just about anywhere - at the restaurant when you ask for a better table, at home when you settle your differences, and in your charitable works. 

Fundraising for a charitable cause can be a great way to build your asking muscle, to hone your negotiation skills and to overcome the inner resistance around money. Because money is a tool that can be used for good. 

So do good. Ask for more. Believe in your capacity. Receive with gratitude. 

Published on by Jamie Lee.