How Do I Tell a Donor What to Give?

Very carefully!Determining donations image

Well, “tell” may be the wrong word, but you definitely can suggest what to give. High-level donors expect to be given details about the project, the monetary goals, and how the donor can make an impact with their donation. In fact, at every level, donors will often give more – and happily give more- if he or she is helped to understand what dollar amount would help.

Almost everyone appreciates guidance from an expert. And, when you are the solicitor, you are a consultant to the prospect and you are there to help him/her/them make a good decision about their next philanthropic investment.

Let’s examine this from a more personal perspective. Think for a minute to the last solicitation to which you responded. Perhaps it was a direct mail piece or an email from one of your favorite organizations. You had planned on giving and this seemed like a good time for the organization so you responded for their call to “give what you can” and zipped off your check for $50, $100, maybe even $500. But what if when they had originally contacted you, they explained the full scope of the project, why your participation was so important for the organization and truly made you feel as if without you the organization would not be able to fulfill its mission. After acknowledging your past generosity they asked if you could double your donation this year. It would help them achieve their lofty, but attainable goals. Would you have doubled your check? Would you have given them the $100? What if they had asked for $500 but they would be happy to have you spread it out over a 5-year period allowing an easier payment for you and a steady cash flow for them. You are left with the feeling that you are really helping and they have a promise from you for 5 years. Not bad, huh?

The idea of “giving what you can” sounds nice in theory, but in practice leaves most people relatively unsatisfied. Left to their own devices, donors will rarely give what they “can” give, they will give what they are comfortable with when they first think about it. But if you suggest a specific dollar amount and you show them how it would help, you are showing your donors a way to feel that they can make a difference for your organization. And just imagine if you could double each of your donors’ contributions…

Major gifts level donors

Your donors who contribute at the major gifts level—whatever that might mean for your organization—expect to be provided with guidance as to the amount of the gift you have in mind. But this concept is often hard for staff and board members to grasp when the amount is $10,000, $100,000, even $1,000,000. These amounts may seem like a lot to you, but if you have correctly determined the gift rating, you will not have been the first organization to approach your valued donors at this level. Remember, if you don’t ask for it, someone else will.

Let them say no

You’re still not sure if you can ask that couple for that much. There are so many reasons they might say no – “They’ve already given $500,000 to an arts organization this year.” “She has just started to come to events, she’s not hooked in enough yet.” “He turned us down 3 years ago when we were looking to do renovations.” All of these statements may be true, but don’t say no for the donor – they are fully capable of saying no for themselves. And if you say no, you won’t have the chance to hear the yes.

The all important ask

Before you ask, make sure you have:

  1. correctly evaluated each donor and defined the donor’s capacity to give;
  2. determined a large, but reasonable suggested amount as the rating.
  3. prepared to explain the overall campaign as well as how the donor’s gift fits into the overall campaign; and

This may not guarantee success, but it will ensure they take your request seriously and that, in itself, will enhance the possibility of success.
Need more convincing? Hiring from within will have a positive ripple effect throughout your organization. It boosts moral, loyalty, offers higher job satisfaction –which in turn lowers turnover– and reduces costs. The cost of a new hire is much greater than providing training to a current staff member.