Are you asking my mom for money?

  DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO   ENGAGE USA

DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO
ENGAGE USA

Like many people in her generation, my mother is pretty frugal. Though she’s comfortable in retirement, for most of her life, she didn’t have a lot of money to spare.

So, I guess you could say I spent my college years testing asks.  To be honest, they usually were over the phone — so maybe they were telemarketing asks — but they were asks.

When I called my mom to ask for $25, she would always ask “why?”  The first time I asked, I answered, “I’m out of money.”  And my mom replied that I should have planned ahead.

My parents budgeted for my food and shelter and tuition.  But they expected me to make the money to pay for extras.  Fair enough.  But I knew that my friends managed to convince their parents to send extra money.  How did they do it?

I know the answer today, but the 18-year-old Dennis was a little bit dense.  And it took me a while to figure it out: be specific.

I quickly learned that telling the truth and being transparent worked really well when I needed money from Mom.  It didn’t work every time.  But usually, when I called saying I needed $25 for a book or $40 because I had holes in my shoes, my parents would send it.  That’s because they wanted to help.  They’d give money when I could convince them that I had a real need, but not when I asked for money to support my lifestyle.

Today, my parents are in the donor generation.  They like to support my work so they save all of their mail for me.  And I see them supporting cancer and Alzheimer’s research, and quite a few other causes.  But they’re not the type of donor who gives to membership appeals or annual funds.  They give to special appeals.  

If you want to convince my mom to give, ask for money to fix the plumbing at the orphanage your organization runs in Nicaragua.  Or ask for money to purchase a television ad on the evening news (make sure to tell them what channel — or at least network).  My mom would send you money to pay for new light bulbs if you tell her how much they cost and convince her that you’re getting a good price.  

Just like my mom, your donors need to know why you need their help, how you will use their donation, and how their help right now will make an impact with your cause.  My mom wasn’t just giving me $40.  And she wasn’t just giving me $40 for shoes.  She was giving me $40 for a new pair of shoes that would get me to class so I could get an education and improve my life — a cause my mother cared for deeply.

So when you tell your donor exactly what you’re spending the money on, you can ask more often.  Be honest with them.  They want to help.