Arts Council England
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How to ask for support

Following their evaluation of the Arts Council's Catalyst: Evolve programme, designed to help arts organisations become more effective fundraisers, Rossella Traverso and Richard Naylor from BOP Consulting share their lessons on how to make an effective ask for charitable support.

Dancers wearing orange perform in a paved outdoor square between fountains of water

Asking for financial support can be a daunting prospect, but there are things you can do to make it easier and more effective.  Here are our top tips for making the ask.

1. Don’t treat it as the first stage of the fundraising process

A lot of work has to happen to get you to the point where you can ask for money, including:

  • Choosing your prospects – Remember that not everyone will be inclined to support your organisation, so how should you choose who to approach? We suggest three points to consider:
  1. Propensity – Do they have philanthropic ambitions?
  2. Capacity – Do they have the means to support you?
  3. Relationship – Is there already a connection between the potential donor and your organisation?
  • Doing your research – Once you’ve decided who to approach, learn about the potential donor; their history, the, interests and motivations, the projects they have supported in recent years, and the reasons why they give. Why would they be interested in supporting you? What arguments will resonate with them?  What gifts are they able to make?  What kind of cultivation and stewardship is appropriate?
  • Cultivating the relationship – before making an ask, invite the potential donor to find out more about you and your work. From one-to-one meetings, to curated roundtables, small and big events, digital interaction, letters, so many approaches can do the trick – choose a mix that feels appropriate and realistic for you!

2. Lay the groundwork to support an effective ask

You have identified who you want to approach, carried out your research and begun cultivating a relationship with them. Now what’s the best way to ask for a donation?

  • Be clear about what you want, and why you want it – Look at your charity accounts and assess how much you need to raise, and look at how how potential donors have worked with other organisations.  Work out what type of support they’re likely to be offer, and provide them with a variety of appropriate options for working with you.  Remember that the size of the donation will reflect the relationship you have, so it’s often best to start by asking for a smaller amount and cultivate the relationship that will allow you to ask for larger sums over time.
  • Demonstrate the value of your work – Showcase your accomplishments and tell potential donors about the impact your work has on artists, audiences and the wider community.
  • Tell them about the impact of their donation – Be clear with donors how much you’re trying to raise, and why you need their support in addition to other sources of funding.  What impact will their donation have, and what will it allow you to achieve that otherwise wouldn’t be possible?
  • Talk about the support you already have - Showcase the support you already receive at various levels – this will validate the work you already do.  If you have high profile patrons, ask them to write a recommendation that you can include in your communications materials.
  • Communicate clearly – Always strive to communicate using human, personal language when meeting donors, rather than using business jargon – people give to people.  Support this with simple, well designed materials that lay out your mission and vision as well as key facts and figures, using images and infographics where appropriate.  As Richards Naylor and Rossella Traverso discuss in their blog , developing a concise fundraising narrative using the 3C model – being compelling, consistent and comprehensive – will help you to tell people why you are a deserving recipient of philanthropic income.

3. And finally, make sure you DON’T….

  • Underestimate the amount of time it takes to develop and nurture real relationships.
  • Ask an individual you haven’t already engaged deeply with for a major gift (whatever “major gift” means to you).
  • Ask for large gifts in a group environment. One-to-one approaches led by peers where there is room to explore issues and clarify questions are a more appropriate approach.
  • Overspend on cultivation and stewardship, especially when it’s clear the donor is not able to support you, or to make a future gift. You have limited resources, so use them wisely.
  • Dismiss small gifts: every contribution helps, and small gifts can pave the way to bigger donations.


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