How to fuel your speech when you’re asking for money

Exhorting listeners to reach into their wallets to make a contribution—Will that be paper or plastic?—demands that you reach into their hearts and minds and stir them to action.

Short of sending soldiers to war, there is no speech more difficult to give than the one in which you ask for money.

A president can convene the Congress, and command the attention of the American people, to address a wounded nation; he can abandon partisanship for citizenship, so we may bear ourselves for this long trial by fire, of attacks by and against the enemy; he can outline the price we must pay, and the ultimate sacrifice many among us will make, to ensure the survival of freedom—at home and abroad.

A leader can make men march, but it takes a different kind of talent to induce those same men to offer a financial contribution on your behalf.

You cannot win these individuals with rhetoric alone.

You must, instead, do what several prefer not to say, and still more will never say: “I need your help. I need your financial support.”

No other time is a speaker so vulnerable—nowhere else is a person so exposed—because, without at least one benefactor or legions of donors, a candidate cannot endure, the hope cannot live and the dream will surely die.

That rule is not exclusive to politics, as it includes any and all institutions for which donations are the difference between failure and success.

The director of a nonprofit carries a similar burden, a volunteer shoulders a related weight, and a committee bears a comparable yoke.

Wherever budgets are tight—and whenever funds are necessary—there must be someone smart enough to know, strong enough to do and shrewd enough to give thanks.

Tell people why they should care, and where their money goes, so they have an emotional investment in this common cause.

Do not, however, use pressure as a way to exploit those emotions—those feelings of loss, guilt, shame, pity and embarrassment—because that tactic does not work: It is the mark of the demagogue and the televangelist, the host of a late-night infomercial and the patriarch of an electronic revival, demanding that you surrender your earnings for the sake of some miracle product or some miraculous healer, while supplies last—before the Lord Almighty calls this polyester preacher home—and you miss your chance to save yourself and the world.

Be the Great Explainer rather than the Great Agitator, because when patrons know more about what you do (and how they can help), there is a greater likelihood they will do just that—help.

Explain to them why they are the members of a select society, the men and women at the vanguard of change.

Give them a reason to believe, not by providing an inventory of expenses and accounts receivable, but of the practical results—the improvement in people’s lives—that a financial contribution can achieve.

Give them the facts, imbued with passion and a pledge to do right.

Give them your best, with the timing and gestures—and the rhythm and grandiloquence—of a great speaker.

Give them everything they need—and want—to hear, because this speech may very well determine whether your efforts will continue, your colleagues will further your interests and your co-workers will advance your agenda.

That speech is never easy to give, but it is nonetheless essential.

Give it your all.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medium.

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