How to Determine the Right Ask Amount for Each and Every Donor

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By Amy Eisenstein

Although you should be asking for major gifts all year long, Q4 is a prime time for raising major gifts. So, there’s no better time to think about how to determine an ask amount than right now.

While there’s no exact scientific formula to determine an ask amount, below are some guidelines to help you start thinking about your ask amount in a more strategic way.

3 Caricatures to Help You Determine the Right Ask Amount

Before we dive into determining the right ask amount, let’s look at some caricature stories for potential and current donors.

1. SASHA: The Engaged Donor

Sasha is a loyal donor who gives $1,000 every year and has done so for 10 years. Sasha is one of your best donors. You’ve always wondered if she could give more, but never had the courage to approach her.

One day, you see a photo of Sasha in the local paper presenting the hospital with an “oversized” check for $1 Million. Your wheels start turning, and you wonder if Sasha would give your organization $1 Million too.

Later you learn that Sasha has served as a volunteer at the hospital for many years. Recently, she’s been appointed to the board, and she even chairs a committee.

No one has ever asked her to volunteer at your organization. Hmmm…

How much should you ask Sasha for?

2. LARRY: The Stingy Businessman

Larry is the CEO of a local business in town. He works hard and runs a successful business. He lives in one of the biggest houses in town up on the hill. Larry takes extravagant vacations and owns several sports cars.

Larry doesn’t volunteer or donate to any charities as far as you know. Larry has never given to your organization.

How much should you Larry ask for?

3. ROSEMARY: The Generous Volunteer

Rosemary has been a longtime volunteer at the local soup kitchen. She shows up every week to help hand out meals and is the last volunteer to leave after a long shift. She works an average job and lives in a modest home. She visits her kids for holidays and doesn’t have other vacations that you’re aware of.

Rosemary gives $25 each year in response to the annual appeal.

How much should you ask Rosemary for?

How Much to Ask — Use Consistency As Your Guide!

One important thing to remember — as my partner at the Capital Campaign Toolkit always says:

People are consistent.

If someone is generous, it’s likely that they’ll be generous to more than one organization. And, if someone is not philanthropic, there’s no use wishing they were — regardless of how much money they have.

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So always consider each donor’s history (with your organization and with others) to help you determine an appropriate ask amount.

Use Past Indicators to Help You Determine the Right Ask Amount

Here are three past indicators to consider when asking for a gift and trying to determine the right ask amount:

1. Past gifts to your organization

Past gifts are likely indicative of future gifts. If someone consistently gives $1,000 to your organization, it’s unlikely they’ll give $1 Million out of the blue. It will take lots of cultivation to get a donor to consider that big of a jump. It’s more likely that they’ll incrementally give more over a period of years, but you need to ask for more!

So ask your $1,000 donors to consider $5,000 (or possibly even $10,000) and see how they respond. Be patient and persistent. $1 Million gifts don’t materialize out of thin air.

2. Gifts to other organizations

Gifts to other organizations can give you a hint about a donor’s capacity to give big gifts. But simply because they give big gifts to other organizations doesn’t necessarily mean they will give a big gift to your organization.

3. What they have told you

When trying to come up with an ask amount, ask your donor what they’d like to see happen, and how they see themselves compared with other donors at your organization (do they see themselves playing a lead role)?

5x What They Gave Last Year as a Loose Rule

If you’re asking for a major gift for the first time (in-person or via Zoom) for a specific amount, start with approximately five times what they gave last year (if last year was an average year).

With that in mind, let’s look again at our three caricatures from above:

  • SASHA — you might start by asking for $5,000.
  • LARRY — even though he’s wealthy, he’s not worth your time.
  • ROSEMARY — you might ask for $150 or even start with asking her about a bequest intention.

If you’re really not sure what to ask for, that’s okay too. It’s important to be honest. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure what to ask you for, so if it’s okay, I’m going to share some of our needs.” Then ask for something specific. For example:

We need $100,000 to fix the roof. Is that something you could consider?

Or you might say:

We’re asking 5 of our most loyal donors to consider a leadership level gift of $10K or more, is that something you could consider?

How much would you ask Larry, Sasha, and Rosemary for?

While I provided some ideas above for our three prospective donors, perhaps you have some other thoughts. So what might you ask Larry, Sasha, and Rosemary for?

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