Harnessing Your “Asking Style” with the Queen of the Asking Style System
Are you a Mission Controller, Go-Getter, Rainmaker or Kindred Spirit? Andrea Kihlstedt, creator of the Asking Styles system, helps you find your inner “asker”, and challenges you to channel your style to excel in “the ask”. Don’t be scared…this won’t hurt a bit!
1.) How many years have you been in fundraising?
Wow! It's been more than thirty years – though that time has gone by so fast it's hard to believe it's been that long.
2.) What made you have such an interest in fundraising and nonprofits?
I’ve always found fundraising to be a remarkable window into people and the factors that help them be effective – as well as the roadblocks that stand in the way of their effectiveness. When you combine (personal and organizational) missions and money, you get the perfect microcosm for looking at things like commitment, generosity and courage, along with anxiety and downright fear. I love seeing people being their most effective selves, and I have great sympathy when they aren’t.
I believe that each of us has the capacity to be generous and stingy, courageous and cowardly, passionate and disconnected. I’ve been trying to find the keys that enable people to function at their best throughout my career, and that quest continues to pull me.
3.) In your opinion, what is the most significant change in the fundraising profession since you started your career?
I’m convinced that fundraising is in the midst—or perhaps even still at the beginning—of a transformation so great that in another few years we’ll hardly recognize the field. I see the following as the biggest factors in change:
- In the last five years the Internet has changed the way we communicate so radically that things we’ve taken for granted for decades are no longer realities. The huge flow of information available through the Internet has made the competition for people’s attention far stiffer. Most people no longer read—they scan, so images have become more effective than paragraphs of text.
- The importance of geographic boundaries and “local community” for fundraising has almost disappeared. Today it’s just as easy and often more compelling to give to organizations around the world as it is to give to an organization in your backyard.
- Crowdfunding platforms have made it possible for individuals and small organizations to raise money for their projects as never before, providing easy ways to communicate with donors, present their cases, and make their asks. So the techniques of fundraising are no longer limited to nonprofit organizations, but have opened up to individuals as well.
- We can now take and share photos and even videos easily and we can learn from and interact with each other immediately, regardless of distance. We can also learn more about our donors than perhaps we should know.
But one thing has not changed—people still respond to one another and build stronger relationships when they meet face-to-face. In fact, I have a hunch that because so much communication is impersonal, actual personal relationships stand out today more than ever. So any organization that sets out to build a major gift program based on face-to-face communication will benefit with even greater generosity from their donors. Some things never change. And that’s one of them.
4.) What is the key to a successful “ask”?
There are two keys to successful asks. The first is to be yourself when you ask someone for a gift. The best asks are genuine, authentic conversations in which you and your donor make real contact. If you try to be “slick” or more of a salesperson than you really are, you’re not likely to succeed.
The second is to ask for something specific that you have reason to believe serves the donor’s interests. Successful asks must serve two masters—your organization and the donor. People forget the donor all too often!
5.) What is your go-to fundraising technique?
Asking in person! It’s that simple...and that hard. In fact, I think that asking in person is the key to many things in life, not just fundraising. Asking other people for help—whether it’s monetary or some other form of help—forces you to be vulnerable. And as the wonderful writer Brené Brown describes, people become more powerful when they are willing to be vulnerable. This idea seems counter-intuitive, I know. But when you ask people for help, you will learn about them, give them an opportunity to connect with you and your organization, and become clearer on your own commitment and values. If you ask more, you will raise more money and you will expand your world in ways you might never have anticipated. (I am just now starting to write a new book on Asking as an Intentional Conversation. Stay tuned!)
6.) Tell us about your Asking Styles system.
I developed the Asking Styles system as a way to help people become more comfortable asking for donations. After years of watching as people tried unsuccessfully to master a particular “correct” way of asking, I decided that perhaps that way of thinking about fundraising is a fool’s errand. What if, I thought, different people tried asking in a way that suits their particular temperament?
When that idea struck me it was like a slap on my head. Of course! After all, people are effective in different ways in other areas of their lives, so why not use that fact to help them become more effective fundraisers? And from that idea grew the system of Asking Styles that I developed through Asking Matters.
The Asking Styles system provides a simple way of evaluating your personality around key elements that are important for asking. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And, are you intuitive or analytic? Put together, these qualities form four Asking Styles – each of which approaches donor meetings in a particular way.
For example, I call people who are introverts and analytic Mission Controllers in the Asking Styles lexicon. These folks always want to be thoroughly prepared. They focus on mastering and remembering the facts, and they feel more comfortable preparing a script in advance. On the other hand, Go-Getters, the extroverted intuitives, have little tolerance or interest in details, but they make up for their lack of factual mastery with their high energy and ability to ignite a spark with the donor. The two other styles, Rainmaker and Kindred Spirit, also have their specific strengths. Rainmakers are goal oriented and great at closing gifts, while Kindred Spirits are fantastic listeners.
I’ve made dozens of presentations to groups to help people find and understand how to use their Asking Styles. People constantly thank me for helping them realize that they, too, can be great fundraisers even though they don’t see themselves as quintessential sales people.
The Asking Styles system also helps people who work together understand and make use of one another’s strengths.
7.) You credit YOUR success in fundraising to making full use of the Asking Style that is particular to you. What is that style?
While each of us has many facets to our personality, most of us have an Asking Style that fits us best. I’m a Go-Getter—extroverted and intuitive. I’m energized by talking to people, and I’m not much good at facts and figures. I get excited by ideas and tend to go where I find energy rather than laying out a specific plan and working one step at a time. As with all of the styles, this approach has its strengths and weaknesses.
The Asking Styles system has helped me capitalize on what comes naturally to me and get help from others on what does not. I only wish that I had come up with this approach much earlier in my career because I find it liberating to focus on using my strengths and admitting the areas in which I am less proficient! In fact, I’ve not only become more forgiving of my own weaker areas but I’ve also come to appreciate the people who are strong in the areas that don’t come naturally to me.
8.) Have your styles evolved over time as fundraising has changed? If so, how?
I think that most of us become more who we are as we become older and more experienced. But I have also noticed that as more of my communication takes place through email rather than on the phone, I have become less of a party person. I find that I can take almost as much pleasure in my online relationships as I once did in face-to-face interactions. I wonder if other extroverts are finding that to be the case?
9.) What would you suggest to a beginner fundraiser who is just starting to develop their asking style?
The concept behind Asking Styles is less about developing your style and more about understanding it and using it to its fullest. I suggest that beginner fundraisers take stock of who they are—of their natural strengths—and use them to the fullest. To learn their Asking Style, they can go to www.askingmatters.com and take a simple thirty question Asking Style Assessment. If people want to learn even more about Asking Styles they can also get more information from my book Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power.
10.) How would you guide veteran fundraisers who are looking to refine their asking style?
The more experience you have as a fundraiser, the more confident and relaxed you are likely to become. I’ve found that when people become comfortable with their own Asking Style they can start to see clues about their donors’ styles and quite naturally accommodate the donors' styles into their own fundraising approach. While it’s never wise to try to pretend to be like your donors, as you come to appreciate your own Style you will be more responsive to the characteristics of others – which will make you even more effective.
11.) Is there anything about fundraising that still surprises you?
I am always surprised to see how anxious people are about asking, and how powerful and successful they are when they can get over that oh-so-common fear.
Note: If you want to learn your Asking Style, go to www.askingmatters.com to take a short Asking Style Assessment and get your results immediately on line.
Andrea Kihlstedt has served the non-profit sector for nearly forty years as a fundraiser, consultant, teacher, and speaker – experiences that have led her to pioneer an entirely new way of looking at the art and science of successfully asking for money—hence her third book, Asking Styles – Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power. Kihlstedt has also written books on capital campaign and major gift fundraising. She is currently working on a book on board training with her colleague Andy Robinson. Contact Andrea Kihlstedt at firstname.lastname@example.org