How to Ask Someone to Donate $1,000,000

Rejection ProofRecently, I have become aware of a theory called rejection therapy. The idea is that to overcome the fear of rejection you ask for seemingly preposterous things and eventually, you will be immune to the rejection and focused on how to turn the “no” into a “yes.” But can you use this theory if the idea is not preposterous but just scary? What if you want to ask someone to go on date or, since this is a fundraising and development blog, want to ask someone to donate $1,000,000 to your capital campaign? Can you make these asks feel less like you are asking for the moon?

A Bit of Backstory
A couple of months ago I clicked a recommended link and ended up watching a TEDx talk given by Jia Jiang. I became a bit obsessed with his idea of rejection therapy that was only fueled when I saw him speak at a conference. He turned around his fear of rejection by spending 100 days asking for things that seemed just beyond his reach. Not surprisingly, he was rejected when he asked for a burger-refill to go with his drink refill and when he asked a stranger to borrow $100. But he was shocked when the flight attendant let him make the welcome announcement (it was illegal for him to give the safety announcement as all passengers need to be in their seats), Krispy Kreme made a complicated, customized donut for him, and a police officer let him drive his car – lights and all.

When I heard his story I realized this is exactly what we talk to our clients about.

Rejection Therapy in Fundraising
Go out and ask each and every one of your nonprofit’s prospects to donate $1,000,000 and you would probably not get a single positive response. If there is no way for them to say yes (finances won’t allow it), you will not be learning about rejection therapy, you will simply get used to being rejected. By the time you reach the person(s) who could give $1,000,000, you would be asking with the assumption that you will get rejected. The “therapy” implies that you will grow from the experience not just ask for the same thing from different people in the same way.

What you can learn from Mr. Jiang, and other experienced solicitors, is that the right ask, to the right person, in the right way, with the ability to see the possibilities will help you find success.

Consider a campaign in which you have 350 rated individuals/couples. There are a few $1,000,000 and $500,000 prospects included, but the majority range from $5,000 to $250,000. You work with a committee to consider the ratings and determine appropriate asks for each. Then, you know that you have the right ask to the right person. You are not asking a $5,000 donor for $500,000 or asking a Krispy Kreme employee to let you give a flight announcement.

Then, practice getting rejected within the safe confines of your development committee. Everyone gets a little nervous when asking for a meaningful donation and that is what keeps it exciting for some and terrifying for others. Practicing within your committee will help you overcome some of the fear and help you frame what is the right way to ask for the donation. It will help you consider how you would ask someone differently if he or she is close to retirement or has children who are about to start college. And how you would answer the inevitable questions that will arise. Getting rejected by your fellow committee members will help you ask differently the next time.

The list of possible reasons someone may say “no” when you ask them to donate may be long, but the ability to see the possibilities will help you realize that most of the time “no” is a, “not now,” “I have to think about it,” or “wow, I couldn’t do that, could I?” Maybe the ask is too high or your information about their ability to give was wrong, but that is not a rejection of you. That is a rejection of the information and you can move past that to find the amount that will help the donor feel good about their gift. Consider how you can make this a “yes,” now or in a future meeting. Is it a lower amount? Is it a family gift? Is it a gift pledged over 5 years? If you can see the possibilities, you can help the donor see the path forward.

By the time you ask that prospect to donate $1,000,000, you will start the same way you would for $5,000. Without the fear of rejection.

Want to read more about how you can improve your capital campaign success?

The Nonprofit Leaders Guide to a Capital Campaign

Capital Campaign Success – Should You Measure Dollars or Donors?

Keeping Optimistic During a Capital Campaign

The Timing of a Capital Campaign