Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during May/June 2013, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.

ASKING FOR MONEY FROM A POTENTIAL MAJOR DONOR is always a bit nerve-wracking and anxiety-producing. Oftentimes, asking for that larger gift can bring up a lot of our baggage around money, class differences, power dynamics, and fear of rejection—like most face-to-face asks do.

As fundraiser trainers, many of us have found that uncovering a bit more about our own giving practices, values around giving, and connection to the work of groups we give to can help put us in the right frame of mind before making that ask. It is easier than we may think to put ourselves in donors’ shoes, but let’s start with our own shoes!

This training exercise will help you work with others in your group to explore areas of the work you feel passionate about and practice key talking points. It will also allow you to reflect on your own relationship to giving and what guides that practice. From there, you can ask yourselves these same questions from the perspective of the donor. When you know what motivates you, it can be easier to think about what motivates someone else.

Exercise: Understanding Donor Motivations (Including your Own!)

Goal: To discover your motivations for giving and prepare to ask a donor for a gift.

Participants: Anyone who will be fundraising by making direct asks for the organization. This exercise works best with 5 to 10 participants.

Time needed: 30-40 minutes

Materials: Flip chart paper, markers, tape

Preparation: Decide who will facilitate the exercise. Choose four to seven questions from the list in the sidebar that are relevant to your group, or create your own questions. Write one question at the top of each flip chart sheet. Tape the sheets up around the room, leaving a few feet of space in between sheets.


  1. Everyone picks up a marker. Without talking, each participant walks around the room, writing answers to each of the questions on the posted sheets. People should spend no more than two minutes on each question. Provide two-minute and one-minute warnings.
  2. Divide participants into as many groups as there are flip chart sheets or fewer (ideally, three to five people per group). Have each group stand in front of one of the flip charts and briefly discuss the answers on each sheet. After a few minutes, each group moves on to the next sheet, and so on. The total amount of time for this section should only be two to five minutes per question. Be sure to give time notifications to keep groups moving, as this section can take quite long otherwise. Don’t worry if there isn’t enough time for every group to discuss all the questions. An alternative, if you are short on time, is to give the entire group five or ten minutes to walk around the room looking at all the charts individually without discussing their responses.
  3. Bring the large group back together and ask these reflection questions:
  • Did you find any of the questions to be particularly challenging to answer?
  • Did you find any of the responses to be surprising?
  • Did you notice any similarities, differences, or themes among the responses?
  • What information do you need from a donor to make their gifts personally relevant to them?


Use the information you gather from the activity to help inform your planning for major donor asks and campaigns. For example, if several people shared that there is a new and exciting program, you may want to create a one-pager that highlights this program and why you got started. You can do this especially if you want to share this information with a particular set of donors.

You can then put together materials for each person who will ask donors for gifts at your organization. It can include key materials such as a one-pager about a new program or building, an annual report, a public budget, a list of staff and board members, a current newsletter, a donation envelope, and your business card.

Before entering an ask meeting, try to outline the following for yourself. Keep in mind your time constraints.

  • How can I remind the donor of what motivates them to give? If I don’t know, how will I ask them?
  • Talking points:
    – What story/narrative can I share with this donor? (Any compelling story
    about a client, community member, or staff member?)
    – Statistics/Key information?
    – What is our vision for change? What is this particular ask for? (A new
    project? Continued operating funds?)
  • How much will I ask for? (Refer to giving history.)

Finally, don’t forget to practice! Have a colleague do a role play with you as you practice your ask. The importance of practicing cannot be emphasized enough— it helps you become comfortable with all of your talking points and prepare for questions that may come up in your meeting.

When you can articulate your own passions for your work, a donor will understand that and likely consider making their own gift. Our own motivation to give is truly one of the best tools we have for success in fundraising!