I hear it all the time from nonprofits: "Our e-newsletter doesn't work." "Direct mail doesn't work for us." "Social media doesn't work for us."

When I probe a little deeper, what people often mean is that their communications don't seem to be motivating people to do what the nonprofit wants, whether that's donating money, signing up to volunteer, or registering for an event. A closer look at these communications often leads to a common problem: vague, inconsistent, or buried asks. Many times, it's simply not clear what the nonprofit is asking the reader to do!

Making the Ask: Getting People to Give, Volunteer, and More” is the topic of today's free webinar (3/20/12).  One of the points I'll cover is recognizing and avoiding common ways that nonprofits sabotage their asks.

Here are five frequent problems with the way nonprofits ask for support, whether it’s donating money or time or some other valuable.

1. Assuming One Size Fits All. There is no such thing as the general public. Know your supporters, donors, participants or whoever you are talking to, and customize the way you ask for support to that group.  You should talk to your long-time volunteers differently than you talk to someone you just met. Your major donors have different expectations of you than someone who just clicked “like” on your Facebook page.

Of course, avoiding the one size fits all approach requires that you are tracking data about your supporters so that you can more easily segment them into groups and customize your messages accordingly.

2. Being Too Vague. Don’t ask for “support” or “help” or use any of these other weak calls to action. People don’t know what you are asking for. Be specific.

3. Failing to Make It Relevant. What’s in for them? Why should they care? What good will it do? You have to answer these questions or people won’t follow through. Another way to think about this is "So What? and Who Cares?"

4. Not Making It Super Easy to Do It. Put yourself in their shoes and walk through the exact process you are asking others to follow. How can you make it easier and faster? Is donating online super easy? Is getting the right person on the phone super easy? (Think nonprofits are pretty good at this? Think again.)

5. Asking Sheepishly. If you seem embarrassed or guilty when asking, that’s a clear sign to your volunteers or donors that they might feel embarrassed or guilty themselves by following through. Remember, asking is about giving people an opportunity, not about taking something away from them. We often mirror emotions in these situations, so if you want someone to be excited to volunteer, you should show a little enthusiasm yourself.

If you missed the webinar or can't join us live, you can access the recording with an All-Access Pass to Nonprofit Marketing Guide