By: Elli Krandel
Ask for what you want. It sounds simple, and even though it’s crucial in order to accomplish most tasks, it can actually be very difficult. I have been thinking a lot about how comfortable I feel asking for what I want this year, especially in regards to fundraising. My placement, the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, is completely privately funded, as is AVODAH. This means that we rely solely on donations from individuals and private foundations. This also means that there is a lot of asking involved in keeping our budget afloat. Before this year, I never wanted to talk about money with anybody, let alone ask people for money. That is something I have been working on changing this year.
It’s important to recognize that there are many different levels of asking, and each one requires a different amount of risk. I like to think of it like a dinner party. It’s not very risky to ask your neighbor to pass the salt. You can say it quietly, so it doesn’t have to bother anyone else’s conversations, and you don’t have to draw much attention to your salty food addiction. This type of asking is similar to soliciting your parents for a few dollars when you are in a bind, or doing a small fundraiser. In both cases, you don’t need to do much to be heard, and the chances of the person being asked saying no are incredibly slim, unless you spilled something all over your neighbor earlier in the meal…then it might be risky to ask them to pass something your way.
The next type of asking involves a bit more risk. For example, you are asking someone a few seats down to pass a heavy bowl of soup. They will probably still say yes, but you will need to raise your voice a bit so they can hear you, and everyone between you and that person will notice, and probably participate, in passing you the bowl. This is similar to asking friends and extended family for donations. You will need to put more effort in than asking your parents. You will also probably need to give more of an explanation of your cause, and should send them a follow-up thank you note. It can be uncomfortable to put yourself in this situation, especially with the increased uncertainty of success, but you are usually happy and satisfied once you have received the soup/donation.
The top tier of asking is the highest risk. In the dinner party example, this is asking the person across the table to pass you the giant platter of veggie burgers (yes, I am a vegetarian). Since they are sitting furthest from you, you might not know them as well as your closer tablemates. You will probably have to get their attention, either by being very loud, or getting the attention of all the people in between you and them. I would compare this to asking a stranger for a donation. It takes a lot of effort to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and, once you do that, it is quite a few steps further to ask them to make a financial investment in your cause.
Everyone has a their own comfort with the different levels. Some people get a thrill out of making requests; other people would rather hide under the dinner table. I think that anyone can raise their comfort level by following a few simple steps. Most importantly, PRACTICE! The first time you ask a new person to donate to your organization, it is probably going to be weird and uncomfortable, but it only gets easier. Another great way to make a move to a higher level is to practice with the ones you are already comfortable with. When I had to fundraise for AVODAH this summer, I stuck with my lowest comfort level – family and friends. I also did most of my asking in a larger format, such as email and various online venues. Later in the year, when I wanted to get a small donation for my housemates to be able to make sack lunches for the guests at my shelter, I asked my grandma. It was very different from my AVODAH fundraising (I was asking for $100, not trying to raise $1000), but it was more personal to just ask her directly. For me, though, this was still relatively low-risk because I was pretty confident she would say yes (and she did).
Whether you want someone to donate money to your cause, you want a raise at work, or you just want someone to pass you the roasted beets, you will never get it if you don’t ask for what you want.
Elli Krandel is from Woodstock, IL and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a Chicago AVODAH Corps member, she works as a Volunteer Coordinator at Lincoln Park Community Shelter, a comprehensive social service agency serving adult men and women who are experiencing homelessness. LPCS provides interim housing, meals, and a targeted array of social services to over 300 people each year.