3 steps to an artful ask

Posted on January 26, 2012

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Grant proposals come in many lengths, styles and formats. But all of them share one crucial sentence: the ask.

It’s the most important sentence in a grant request. It’s why we call them requests. Oddly enough, about 17%* of the letters I receive don’t include an ask.

Why not? Putting together an artful ask is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

1. Be clear. This sentence doesn’t cut it: “Any donation amount for our programs would be great.” The ask should share your requested amount and expected outcomes. For example: “We request $X to achieve Y and Z.”

2. Make it short. Most asks are about 30-35 words. Doesn’t seem too bad, until you consider studies about reading comprehension.

Ann Wylie, writing trainer extraordinaire, shares these facts  from American Press Institute research:

  • “When the average sentence length in a piece was fewer than eight words long, readers understood 100 percent of the story.
  • Even at 14 words, they could comprehend more than 90 percent of the information.
  • But move up to 43-word sentences, and comprehension dropped below 10 percent.”

The longer the sentence, harder it is for your reader to understand. One of the requests I received used a 60-word ask.  Few people will understand it, let alone fund it.

3. Put it first. In a recent post, Lead with the right hook, I suggest putting the ask first. Make it easy for the funder to find. About 43% of the requests I receive put the ask in the first paragraph, which is very helpful. Another 30% hide it somewhere in the middle of the request.

The ask is a key sentence. But remember: a fit with the funder’s mission will always be the most important factor.

Those are my suggestions for the ask. What are yours?

* I used totally unscientific numbers in this post. I scanned about 50 requests for a quick count.
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