Project 366 #239: 260812 Stay On Target!A few weeks back, I shared with my Fundraising Kick members a conversation I had with a friend asking me for a donation. In short, he asked me to consider “supporting” his nonprofit.

I’m thrilled he asked. That is a huge start. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to coach him into asking more effectively. If he’s going to reach his goal, he can’t simply trust that each person he asks will mystically “get it”…whatever “it” is.

Ambiguity is financial disaster for your nonprofit

You are the expert on your nonprofit. You are the expert on your mission. And you are the expert on the costs associated with that mission. The major gift prospect has no idea what level of gift you’re thinking of! And they certainly can’t read your mind. You may be thinking of a $2500 commitment but they may feel “supporting your cause” is a $25 gift.

It is disrespectful to not make a specific ask. (Click here to tweet that.)

Your nonprofit can’t afford have it’s best major gift prospects, prospects that would gladly give more if asked, give 1% of what you hope they’d give.

So even if you say,

“I have no idea what level to ask you for, but would you consider a gift of $2500 a year for the next three years?”


“I don’t know what you might be able to do, but would you consider joining the Leadership Circle this year?”

This type of phrasing gives them lots of wiggle room while making it clear what kind of commitment you have in mind.

You’re not manipulating

You’re not manipulating. You’re just being clear. The fundraising is based on your nonprofit’s plan. Your nonprofit is setting the target. You’re just trying to find out where the major gift prospect’s ability fits in that plan. Whether you’re specific or not, the donor will decide what to give. But with the wording above, they’ll now have a target to shoot at.

Use gift range calculators to set up levels

If you don’t even know how to come up with levels, try running your total goal through at gift range calculator. These calculators are based on decades of solid fundraising research. They are simply meant to help you plan your fundraising, not to dictate whether your plan will succeed or fail.

The two fundraising calculators I know of are mine and Blackbaud’s:

We focus on different ends of the research. I use the more conservative numbers. If you need your top gift to be 10%-25% of your goal, I figure it’s just as hard to ask for 25%. And if the donor says “no,” they may go down to 20%. But they won’t go up to 20% if you only ask for 10%. Blackbaud uses the other end of the same research and often feels more “doable” than mine. I like to say my calculator is what you show to an excited board member to help her generate a list of prospect names and Blackbaud’s can be what you use in the office to plan out the campaign. They are simply different sides of the same coin.

This stuff works

I’m on the board of our local United Way. This year, we’re beginning to add major gifts to our work-based campaign. The board has gotten the message so clearly that some are asking their peers to join the Leadership Circle. I’ve been thrilled to hear of the excitement from board and staff alike of donors giving the major gift simply because they were clearly asked!

This can happen to you too. And there’s still time before year end. Don’t let ambiguity kill your major gift fundraising. Ask each major gift prospect to give at a specific level.

The major gift focused Fundraising Kick goes go out each week. If you’re not getting them yet, go to to see examples of actual kicks and to sign up.

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