How Much Should I Ask For?

How Much Should I Ask For?

If you’ve been around development work for any amount of time, or have worked with major donors at all, you’ve probably asked yourself this question – maybe more than once. We have a saying at The Timothy Group (sorry, I don’t know who originated it), “A successful donor visit is when the right person asks the right person for the right amount for the right project in the right place at the right time.”

We’ve found this to be true time and time again, both in capital campaigns and annual fund raising. When these six “rights” align, it’s fun to watch and experience.

So, how about this “right amount?” How do I know? What if I ask too high? Or, too low? Can I go back for seconds if I ask for the wrong amount the first time?

It all starts with research. Who IS this donor (or prospect)? Have they given before? How much? What do you know about them personally? Who else do they give to? How much do they usually give? You can research this donor both internally (your data base and giving records, staff who know them, board member relationships) as well as externally (online resources like Google and donor research tools or services). There are several data research tools available, each with their own cost structure and strengths. Here at TTG, we use one named “Wealth Engine” and have seen some success with it.

A few “rules of thumb” when considering how much to ask for:

  • Consider their largest ever annual gift and start there. If asking for another annual gift, consider asking the donor to increase that 25% or more for the second year;
  • If your ask is for a capital campaign multiple year pledge, consider a request of five times their largest single gift in the past, depending on their capacity of course. Capital campaign gifts tend to be larger as a rule;
  • If in doubt, ask high. It is usually better to ask a donor to “stretch” their stewardship decision, rather than feel like you asked too low. If it is too high, they will tell you. Rarely will they say, “you didn’t ask enough, so how about $_______? Charles W. Phillips Ph.D. of the McLellan Foundation once wrote, “No large ask should be a surprise; every smaller ask is an insult.”

I heard from a client recently that, at the end of a capital campaign “ask” visit, the donor said “you are leaving money on the table. You asked for $4,500 but we could do $10,000.” The client shared with me that the largest single gift they had given in a year was $1,500, so they tripled it for the three-year campaign ask. But what wasn’t realized in advance is this donor was a partner in a very successful local car dealership whose profits were up this year. Proper research would have led to a higher ask and a higher gift. (NOTE: the good news is, the jury is still out on what their final campaign pledge will be – let’s hope it is at least $10,000!)

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