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How to Determine an Exact Ask Amount for Each of Your Major Gift Donors

We’re right in the midst of the Major Gifts Challenge. Check out the introductory video here!

That’s perfect."

Hearing that brings a smile to your face.

Determining an appropriate ask amount can be one of the most daunting tasks of the major gift process. Nevertheless, you’ll need to determine an appropriate ask amount that is Major-Gift size.

You don’t want your amount to be too high or too low—it needs to be just right.

Finding the Sweet Spot

There are two elements which define the limits of the perfect ask amount.

  1. First, know what your organizations needs.
  2. Second, consider what the donor wants to accomplish.

If you find a match between the donor’s desires to help and your organization’s needs, you are on your way to getting a gift.

The Major Gifts Challenge attracts many fundraisers from small development shops. It’s fair to assume you don’t have a team of researchers on staff to help you determine an ask amount. You may not even have run your list through wealth screening to provide a guide.

In these situations use what you have. You know the donor has already given to your organization and you have important pieces of information gained from building a relationship. You can determine other critical data with some basic research yourself. These include things like:

  • What your donor does for a living.
  • How much they give to other organizations (because you’ve seen their name on donor walls or in annual reports of other organizations).
  • How much their house is worth (you can find this from a quick internet search).
  • Other important factors you’ve learned through conversations with your donors, such as the fact that they’re currently paying for college tuition for one child and a wedding for another.

Once you’ve done some detective work and gathered some background information, it’s time to decide on an ask amount.

Calculating Your Ask Amount Down to the Dollar

Begin with the average amount your donor has given to your organization over the last few years.

If they gave $1,000 each year for the last three years, that’s your starting amount. If they gave $500 two and three years ago, but jumped to $1,000 last year, you can also start with $1,000. Use your judgment with what your starting number will be.

Multiply your Baseline

If you’ve never asked them in person before, then you’ve probably received these gifts from events, annual appeal letters, and online solicitations.

Since you’ll be asking in person this time, take that starting amount and multiply it by 5.

$1,000 x 5 = $5,000

Easy enough, right?

Consider Every Factor

Now, you could ask for $5,000, but first consider all the other factors you know about them from your detective work ...

  • If you know they are paying for college tuition and a wedding, decrease the amount, and ask for $4,000.
  • If you know they just sold their business and are flush with cash, you can ask for more and consider $7,500.
  • If you know they really want to make a difference, and want to support the work you’re doing in a big way, and you have a specific need of $6,000—ask for that.

Always Calculate Using Past Giving

What they’ve given in the past is a critical starting guideline.

The reason it’s so important is that if you know the donor has given $1 million to another cause, you might be tempted to ask for $1M too. However, chances are they are much more connected and committed to that other organization. You might jump to $10,000 if they are giving a million elsewhere, but going from $1,000 to a million is unlikely. You’ll have to engage them more first. 

Challenge Yourself Action Item

This week’s Action Item is just a single step.

Determine each ask amount.

Take out the list of people you are going to ask this year and determine ask amounts for each one based on their giving history to your organization and the other factors you know about them.

Going Further with Major Gifts

If you want even more guidance about determining an ask amount, consider enrolling in my 7-week online course, Mastering Major Gifts. Among the many worksheets included with the course, you’ll receive a foolproof worksheet to help you determine the best ask amount for each one of your donors. If you’re eager to bring in 5, 6, and even 7-figure major gifts, you owe it to yourself to check out Mastering Major Gifts and see what the curriculum has to offer.

Act, Comment, and Participate

Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge.

How do you determine an ask amount? What has worked and what hasn’t worked. Let me know about your experiences with ask amounts in the comments.

How to Determine an Exact Ask Amount for Each of Your Major Gift DonorsThe preceding is a cross-post by author, speaker, and trainer Amy Eisenstein. Amy’s published books include Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Raising More with Less, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. She became an AFP certified Master Trainer in 2009. Amy recently completed her service as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals—New Jersey Chapter. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and received her advanced certification, ACFRE, in 2013. Check out her blog and video posts at for free fundraising tips and best practices.

Topics: Fundraising Major Gifts Ask Amount