Once I had a job interview for a fundraising job. The VP of the fundraising department said with a glow in his eyes, “We just did a wealth screening of our donor list, and we have a billion dollars of potential.” I didn’t get the job, so I can’t say how much those donors gave. But I can guarantee it wasn’t a billion dollars. Not even close.
Wealth screening provides the largest amount that donor could give, if properly motivated, in a multi-year pledge. Many over-excited novice fundraisers assume that is the right amount to ask for. The right ask is one that draws the donor closer to the organization. Here are some variables to consider:
The relationship. The people closest to your organization are on the board. The people furthest away are those who have sent a random gift or two. Where does your relationship with the donor fall on that spectrum?
The project. Donors generally don’t give because they love your organization. They give because they want to make a difference. If you ask for support for a project that matches the donor’s deepest convictions, you will get a larger gift.
Viability. Is the logic model compelling? Will the donor’s investment solve the societal problem you present to the donor? If not, a donor is unlikely to invest.
Solicitation sequence. Donors fall into three categories. Leaders like to demonstrate their commitment to a new project, to show other the way. Followers will invest in a project after they see that other people have signed up. Mavericks don’t give a hoot about other donors—they give based on their own convictions, period. Most donors are followers.
Fundraisers often ask rhetorically if it is possible to offend people by asking for too much. I think that’s the wrong question. Ideally, this solicitation is a stepping stone strengthening your relationship with the donor. If you ask for the right amount, the donor will say, “Yes,” and take a step closer.
Paul Jolly is the founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March 2016, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.