Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

May 28, 2013

The key to success in fundraising: Know yourself, and be yourself

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Andrea Kihlstedt

When it comes to raising money from individual donors, the advice I find myself giving over and over again comes down to a simple formula:  Stop trying to match your personality to your prospect's. Instead of trying to act like someone else – which never really works – craft your donor presentations so they reflect your unique strengths.

But how do you do that? After more than 40 years in the nonprofit sector and as a student of human behavior, I've learned that that are four different Asking Styles that are a natural outgrowth of four basic facets of people's personalities. Learn your own Asking Style and you're on your way to becoming a successful fundraiser – without having to feel like you're faking your way through donor interactions.

Take me for example. I’m an extrovert and naturally drawn to people. I seldom shrink from a one-on-one or even a group encounter; in fact, I enjoy the back and forth of a good discussion and the chance to try on different ideas. I actually find out what I think through conversations! I’m not inclined to deep research, and would much rather explore ideas than get hooked on the facts – from my perspective facts are meant to back up ideas, not to spark them. This is just who I am – an intuitive extrovert. In the Asking Styles lexicon, I’m a Go-Getter.

But my style might not work for you. In fact, you may be shocked – even horrified! – to think that someone would propose ideas before doing careful research to see what the data suggests. Does the very thought of having a free-flowing conversation or talking to a donor without a plan of attack make you anxious? At the same time, you may be a still-rivers-run-deep kind of person. Where I'm gregarious and love personal interactions, you may be more comfortable writing an email than working with people in person, or even picking up the phone.

Regardless of whether you're intuitive or analytical, an extrovert an introvert, don't worry! Whatever your natural temperament, you can ask for gifts in the way that suits you best. If you know your Asking Style, you’ll be more comfortable asking for gifts. And more the more comfortable you are, the more effective you’re likely to be.

The Four Asking Styles

The Asking Styles system is simple and easy to remember; based on two axes, the system sorts people into four primary styles.

Start with the vertical axis. Are you an extrovert or an introvert – are you energized by interacting with others, or do you need alone time to charge your inner batteries?

Then add the horizontal axis. Are you intuitive – a deductive thinker who comes up with ideas and then examines the facts? Or are you analytical – an inductive thinker who does research before shaping your ideas?

Combine these two axes to find the four Asking Styles: Rainmaker, Go-Getter, Kindred Spirit and Mission Controller. Each style is quite distinct, and each brings different strengths to the fundraising table. Knowing your own Asking Style will help you understand the approaches that are the most comfortable and effective for you.

If you find yourself thinking you have a foot in more than one Asking Style, don't worry; Asking Styles are a continuum, not a set of absolutes. For example, your primary style may be Mission Controller (analytic introvert) but you may also share characteristics of a Kindred Spirit or a Rainmaker. Take a look at the simple descriptions below and see which of the styles seem to best describe you.

Kindred Spirit
Mission Controller
Big picture
Conflict averse
Detail oriented

Knowing the different Asking Styles – and knowing which one most closely describes your personality – will give you a clearer sense of everything from deciding which prospects are best for you to choosing how to prepare your ask, conduct the solicitation and even follow up with the donor. 

In fact, after working with this approach for several years – and writing a book about it – I've found that consciously employing Asking Styles can have a positive impact on virtually all aspects of the fundraising process, from choosing solicitation teams to pairing fundraisers with donors. The key here truly is knowing and being yourself.

Andrea Kihlstedt has served the nonprofit sector for more than 40 years as a fundraiser, consultant, teacher, and speaker. In her third book, Asking Styles – Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power, Kihlstedt describes how anyone can use the fundamental aspects of their authentic personality to become highly effective fundraisers.

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