3.11 Asking for a Specific Amount

Dear Kim:

I have often heard and others say that when you are asking for money, you need to name an amount or a range.  I feel uncomfortable doing this, and I think some of my donors do not like being asked for a specific amount.  I work with a lot of donors who are deeply religious and look to GOD to tell them what to give, not me.  Can I violate this best practice and still be successful?

~Conflicted and Confused

Dear Conflicted:

When I was in seminary, we had a fundraising joke that went like this:  A development director goes to a very devout donor and asks that this person give what he can as God directs.  The donor says, “Give me a minute while I pray about this” and goes off to a corner to pray.  He comes back and says, “God has told me to give $25,000.”  The development director says, “May I pray for a moment?” and goes to the same corner and prays.  She comes back and says, “God wants to talk with you again.” 

Seriously, though:  there are donors who don’t like to be asked for specific amounts and many of them are not religious.  When you know that about a donor, then you have to figure out a way to lay the case and the cost in front of them without asking for a specific amount.  Sometimes showing them the gift range chart or just the budget does the trick. 

But please don’t confuse your discomfort with the donors’ discomfort.  Because you don’t like to ask for a specific amount does not mean most people don’t like an amount to be specified.  Would you like to go into a supermarket and not have any prices on the products?  Or to a restaurant and have to guess what dinner costs?  Would you like the waiter to say, “Pay what you want, but the total cost of running this restaurant is $500,000 a year.”  Studies of people posing as panhandlers have shown that people are more likely to give something when the request is specific, “Can you give me $1.00 to ride the bus?”  than when it is the more generic  “Spare some change?”   Fundraisers suggest asking for a specific amount because it works, not because we want to mess with people who dislike asking for specific amounts. 

Gift Clubs make a great workaround to this dilemma.  “Ms. Jones, you have been in our Rosemary Club for years.  Would you like to move to the Forsythia level?”   Suggesting a range of giving options also works well, “We are particularly in need of people who can help in the $1,000-$5,000 range.  Can you see yourself anywhere in there?” 

In order to really work with donors, who are very different one from another, it is critically important to know what is true for you, and not to project it onto them.  For most of us, this is a discipline that takes years. 

Good luck. 

~Kim Klein