I’ve just started reading Laura Fredricks’s The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture for work. Whether I like it or not, a large part of my job is fundraising, and my success or failure will largely be measured by my ability to raise money for my college.

There are a lot of obstacles to this goal. Not the least of these is the fact that I have no experience asking for money. Even so, my first year as dean was fairly successful in terms of external gifts to the college: we had an increase of 50% over the previous year. This fact is misleading, however, since the previous year’s giving was relatively small — it didn’t take much to surpass it.

I also have a bit of a cushion this year: one planned gift for which the paperwork was completed this year almost made up my entire goal of the year. But as a planned gift, my college won’t see any of it until the donor passes away, not something that we’re hoping for anytime soon.

While these first two years have therefore technically been successful, my college increasingly needs cash money. Our university’s budget, like everyone else’s, is in the crapper, and the only way I’m going to be able to continue funding some programs is if they receive external support.

My boss would like for me to attend a workshop in Florida next month about fundraising, but the simple fact is that I don’t have a travel budget that will support both going to a workshop and doing actual fundraising. So, I’ve had to choose the latter over the former — I’ve already made one short alumni/development trip since the beginning of the year. In the next few months, I will be making additional ones to Cleveland and San Francisco for sure and to Missouri, Boston, Chicago, and New York potentially.

Consequently, I’ve decided to do why academic would do: study the issue at hand by reading about it. My first step in this process is to read The Ask. Since I started my blog while I was on sabbatical in order to keep track of some of the scholarship I was reading and writing at the time, it seems appropriate to use my blog to keep track of my thoughts about Fredricks’s book (while still keeping track of my favorite movies, music, male models, etc. too!). She assigns exercises throughout the book, so I plan to record my answers to these prompts here.

Chapter 1 is called “What Money Means to You and Why Ask?” As Fredricks writes, what money means to a fundraiser “matters because if you have a positive attitude and outlook about money, then you know the positive transformational power it can bring to deserving individuals and causes, and it makes the Ask go smoothly” (4). She goes on to list several examples of what money means to various people.

The first exercise asks the reader to consider what money means to him or her:

Write your own list of what money means to you and whether those feelings would help or hinder your ability to ask for money.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about money is that I actually don’t place much value in it or think about it very much. While in many ways this is probably a good thing — I don’t, for example, crave money or worry a lot about it or anything like that — but it’s also probably a detriment to being a good fundraiser. I spend money easily. I don’t keep track of my money. I don’t have a history of saving money. I’ve never been able to maintain the process of balancing my check book.

I think this reflects the fact that money doesn’t mean much to me. I wasn’t raised to think about money (thought my mother has always kept a balanced checkbook). It’s not that I have no concept of money’s value; it’s also not that I overspend my income (at least not in the sense of bouncing checks). It’s just not something I think about. This probably hinders my ability to ask for money, since it means that I don’t speak the language of money. I don’t know how to talk about it with other people.

The second thing that comes to mind is what money means to me in my current position as dean. In this capacity, money means opportunity, opportunity for my students to achieve their academic goals. The money I raise can mean that students who might not otherwise attend a college like mine could have the opportunity to do so. This money sends students abroad for live-changing experiences across the globe. This money sends students to conferences to learn and to present their research. This money transforms my students’ academic and professional lives.

The first of these points means that I have a lot to learn. I need to know how to speak the language of money and the Ask. I need to understand the value of money better and to keep track of the college’s money with a greater sense of the long-term in mind. The second of these points gives me the motivation to learn these things and to want to ask my college’s alumni and friends to contribute to what we’re doing. I work with some of the best and brightest students my university has the privilege to serve, and I want to help each of them achieve their goals and dreams. I can only do this effectively if I am able to ask for financial help.

If the first of these hinders my ability to ask for money, the latter one can only help. I hope that The Ask is a good place to start learning how to overcome my deficiencies.

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