You Know You Have to Ask but for How Much?
How do you know what the right amount is to ask an individual, a foundation or a corporation? Is there some kind of formula based on past gifts received? And what if the donor is new?
— Struggling in South Africa
Alas, I know of no “magic” formulas. If such formulas exist, use them only as a part of your analysis.
Wouldn’t it be great to have some objective way to mechanically ask new people for a gift? We could just “know” that we’re asking the right amount. This is part of the lulling stupor created by benchmarking. Benchmarking against other nonprofits can be nice. But if you do, you’ll be excited if you merely have 3 percent giving growth — the overall growth from last year. Couldn’t your mission use more than 3 percent growth?
Fortunately, establishing solicitation amounts is more of an art than a science. Why is that fortunate? Because it forces us to look at donors as people, not machines.
Here are some guidelines to consider when establishing an ask amount for a donor prospect.
Research the prospect
A natural place to start is by researching the prospect. Ask questions like:
- What does he seem to value?
- What does she appear to give to?
- How much does he seem to normally give?
1. Your database: The first place to look is in your own database. Does the donor have a history of giving to you? Does she favor certain aspects of your mission, or does she give to the general fund? Also look for relationship notes and recorded encounters with people at your organization. Don’t rely on your memory. It’s important to review this information, even for people you know well. Your donor may be telling you something by her behavior that she’s not telling you with her words. Look for trends, and determine how to respond.