How to Ask for Money Without Feeling Slimy
Women are good at asking for money for others. What’s difficult: asking for money for themselves.
Did you know that of people surveyed for a 2018 SCORE report, 47 percent of women started a business in the past year compared with only 44 percent of men? In addition, more than 11.6 million US firms are owned by women — employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017 — according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
Yet, although women are adept at asking for money for their favorite charity or for their child’s school, they are often less comfortable raising funds for their own start-up or even for a political candidate.
“We have this societal message that we are supposed to be the good girl and not make people uncomfortable,” says Stephanie McCullough, founder and CEO of Sofia Financial. “We’ve been conditioned to believe that talking about money is unladylike,” adds Karen Cahn, founder and CEO of iFundWomen, a new digital platform that provides coaching for women on how to crowdfund their businesses. “We’re taught it’s shameful to ask for money. And we’ve been conditioned to not be the people controlling the money.”
McCullough says she recently read the book How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith and found one idea really resonated with her: that women are great at nurturing relationships but not at leveraging them. “We worked hard to forge these relationships and don’t want to endanger them by asking for something,” she says.
Ironically, it’s our ability to collaborate and nurture that actually makes women particularly great at asking for money, says Carol Evans, chief relationship officer at Respectful Exits, a new nonprofit that advocates for the rights of older workers. Evans has deep experience raising capital — first for Working Mother magazine and then fundraising for Hillary Clinton and now for Respectful Exits. “I do a lot of asking for money for a lot of different reasons,” she says.
Here are five easy steps for reorienting your thinking about money so you can raise the cash you need.
#1: You’re Not Asking for Money, You’re Providing an Opportunity
Rather than focusing on the fact that you are asking for money, focus on the window of opportunity you are offering the buyer. When Evans was selling candy as a Camp Fire Girl, she says she didn’t think about asking for money. “I saw it as an opportunity to say hello to people and ask them to buy candy.”
Remind yourself that you have an obligation to share this incredible chance to invest — in a hot, new company or a budding new local candidate — with your friends and colleagues. Evans would tell herself, “If I don’t tell this person about this opportunity, they will be upset with me. She will say to me, ‘why didn’t you ask me?’ I always visually imagine someone being upset that I didn’t approach them.”
Even when Evans was raising money for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she emphasized the social aspect of fundraising. For example, when she told the 2,400 members of the Executive Women for Hillary group she ran to invite their networks to Hillary’s birthday bash with John Legend and Demi Lovato or to brunch with Hillary in Mt. Kisco, New York, she felt she was really offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities.
#2: You’re Fundraising for Your Business So You Can Employ Others
When you’re raising capital for your start-up, your ultimate goal is to raise money to create a viable business that will provide jobs for others. “It’s about being able to make a business flourish so you can employ 100 people,” Evans says. And the facts are on your side: Women-owned firms account for 39 percent of all privately held firms and comprise 8 percent of employment in the US, according to NAWBO.
#3: It’s Not an Ask, It’s a Pitch
Cahn says women often struggle with finding the right words when they’re raising funds. But she says, “You are not a charity. You are asking people to contribute, back your campaign, or buy your product or service.” When you ask for money, Cahn says you need to strike these three phrases from your vocabulary: “help me,” “please help” and “donate.”
Cahn suggests using these nine positive, action-oriented phrases to create excitement instead:
“Invest in the business”
“Back the campaign”
“Support my mission”
“I’m solving a problem”
“Become a founding member”
“Be a beta tester”
“Be an insider”
Likewise, veteran fundraiser Hannah Grove, chief marketing officer for State Street Corporation, says be direct, know your audience, and nurture those who give. Grove, who co-chaired a capital campaign for Women’s Lunch Place of Greater Boston, a day shelter, beat the $2.5 million goal by exchanging softballs like “I’d love to get together to talk about a campaign we’re doing to raise money and I’d love to get you involved” for “I would like to meet with you to ask you specifically for $50,000 to support the Women’s Lunch Place. I’m happy to send you materials. I’m happy to meet with you and tell you more. But I want you to know right off the bat what I’m asking you for.” She says, “People have limited time and tolerance for the warm-up. Make the ask early on.”
#4: Bank Your Calls or Meetings to Create Momentum
If just the thought of making phone calls to potential funders makes you nervous, set up a specific time each day to call. Evans likes to do her calls in the morning so she’s not thinking about (and dreading) it all day. She also makes all her calls during one block of time because, after a few calls, it becomes rote and less stressful. Log your accomplishments on a chart so you are encouraged to keep calling, she says.
#5: Know Your Donors — Intimately!
Before making an ask, Grove says you should use the internet and social media to figure out what other boards your donors are on, what else they have funded publicly, whether they have a history of giving to a similar endeavor, and whether they have access to venture capital funding. “There is nothing worse than being given an ask that is far above and beyond what that person has given before,” she says.
When this happened to Grove, it was a real turn off. “I had given at a relatively consistent level to an organization. A new director of development came in and, after a long warm up, she asked me for $100,000.” Grove says she was taken aback by the request, especially since the director could have easily looked up her prior giving level and presented her with a more realistic ask, say, to increase her annual donation by $5,000.
Don’t forget to nurture those who do give to your cause, campaign, or business. “The people who give today will probably give again at some point in the life cycle,” Grove says. So stay in touch by thanking them, letting them know what their support provided, and introducing them to other supporters. “You don’t want to go back to them right away but you might want to go to them in the future,” she says. And even if they don’t open their wallet again, they might be a good advocate for your campaign or business.