10 Ways to Master the Art of Asking


Learning how to be effective in asking others to support your ministry is a key to fruitful leadership, says Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff. She provides ten practical tips from her new book Synergy that will enhance your volunteer recruitment and fundraising.

Whether you’re recruiting Sunday school teachers, amping up your praise team, or raising funds to support youth ministry, your fruitfulness as a leader often depends on how effectively you ask others to engage in your ministry. We all know what ineffective asking is like because it’s so prevalent in the church. Someone puts out one blanket appeal after another. When the response is deafening silence, they get frustrated that people are so indifferent to their cause. The appeals continue, but the tone becomes more desperate or negative, making them even less effective. Fortunately, some simple techniques and perspectives can help you master the art of asking.

While the techniques and strategies of effective asking are important, at the end of the day they must be grounded in gratitude, clarity of purpose, and sincerity.

1. Ask Boldly

An appeal is most effective when offered in a bold, forthright, and confident manner. If your ministry is important enough for you to devote your time, energy, and resources, why would you hesitate to ask someone else to join you? If you’re reticent about asking people to get involved, think about these questions: Why is it important to you? Why is it important to them? And why is it important to God? Even if the person you’re asking can’t respond positively, they’ll come away from the encounter admiring your commitment.

2. Keep a Positive Frame of Mind

It’s also critical that you stay positive. Even if nine people decline your invitation to chair the hospitality team, you must approach the tenth person with just as much enthusiasm and grace as the first. Falling back on appeals to guilt or obligation, motivate few, if any, people. Expressing desperation only communicates that your ministry is struggling and marginal. No one wants to jump on board a project that is spiraling downward. People want to be part of something vibrant, exciting, and hopeful. Enthusiastic, positive asking will attract enthusiastic, positive people.

3. Capitalize on the Power of Personal Invitations

People are most motivated to support persons and organizations where they feel a connection. So a good rule in fundraising and recruiting is: the more personal the ask, the better. Yet many churches do most of their asking in the least personal, and therefore the least effective, ways: general announcements, newsletter articles, mass emails, and “dear friend” letters. A relational ask is powerful because it can be framed around the individual’s gifts, aptitudes, and interests. “Ashley, I’ve noticed how much you care about children and what a great Sunday school teacher you are. I think you’d enjoy the challenge of working with the new after school tutoring program.” Instead of the ask being framed around your need to find a volunteer, it’s about how the opportunity can make a difference to the person you’re asking.

4. Have a Clear Response Mechanism

Never ask something of people without making it clear and obvious how they can respond to your request. When you make a pulpit announcement, give people an immediate way to respond — perhaps a registration card or a tear-off form to place in the offering plate or a sign-up sheet to pass around. If a prospective donor or volunteer wants time to think about your request, don’t put the responsibility on them to get back to you. Say, “I’m glad you’re willing to consider this. Would it be okay if I get back in touch with you next week?” And then make sure you do. If you send an email request, provide a link so that people can respond immediately online. If you request something by mail, include a pre-addressed return envelope, preferably postage-paid.

5. Honor People Who Say No

If you do not create space for people to honestly decline your invitations, they will eventually start dodging your questions. If someone’s reply is an honest, thoughtful no, you have gained valuable information to help you approach them the next time with something more fitting. Moreover, I’ve been surprised, over and over again, particularly in fundraising, to find that people who initially said no eventually responded affirmatively.

6. Aim High

Asking something significant of someone creates a positive dynamic by communicating that you think the person is capable of doing something important. This is why seasoned fundraisers aren’t shy about asking for large amounts of money and the same dynamic exists when recruiting volunteers. Some people I’ve asked to head up a project or team will say, “I’m not sure I can take on the leadership, but I’d be glad to be part of the group.” I always view this as a win, not only because I’ve recruited a strong team member but I can also tell the next person I approach about chairing the effort that a great team is already coming together.

7. Cast a Wide Net

Because assembling a team can require this type of creative back and forth, I always start by casting a wide net. I begin any significant recruiting effort by looking over the entire church roster. It always helps me think of some people who might not otherwise come to mind. It keeps me from relying on a small group of usual suspects.

8. Mix it Up

It’s also helpful to mix it up occasionally. There is usually no one best way of asking people to serve. Some people respond better to one approach and others to something different. Trying something different and keeping it fresh generally yields positive results.

9. Say Thank You

An effective ask always begins by thanking people for what they have already done and reminding them what has been accomplished through their involvement. Linking asking to thanking people and telling the story of what has been accomplished cultivates a mindset of gratitude that is essential to servant leadership. 

10. Stay Grounded

At the end of the day, our credibility when we ask things of others comes by virtue of our own willingness to serve and even sacrifice. I’m most motivated to help those people whose commitment and service I respect. For this reason, I’ve always observed a simple rule: I don’t ask someone else to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. While the techniques and strategies of effective asking are important, at the end of the day they must be grounded in gratitude, clarity of purpose, and sincerity.

This article is adapted from Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Key Leaders by Ann A. Michel Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.The book is available through Cokesbury and AmazonSynergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers.

Related Resources

About Author

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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