When Can We Ask Monthly Donors for Special One-Time Gifts (and to Upgrade)?

Dear Kim,

Our organization has been having discussions about whether and how we can approach monthly donors, particularly those who are already giving $100+ per month, to discuss an extra single gift or an increased monthly gift. When speaking with high-end monthly donors about a special gift, some have responded strongly that, “I have done the math in my budgeting and this is the most I am able to donate. It pisses me off when charities ask for more,” while others have responded by making very large single gifts, and increasing their monthly gifts voluntarily. We are looking to develop a protocol about this so our development team has some guidance. Do you have any advice?

When Is Enough Enough?

Dear W.E.E.,

We love all our donors, but our monthly donors do occupy a special place in our hearts and our budgets. A strong monthly donor program will often keep an organization out of cash flow binds, and their faithfulness can enable more long-term planning. Further, these programs allow people to make gifts that reflect how much they really care about the organization by allowing them to pay every month. But many organizations find that their monthly donors present the two dilemmas you mention: Can you ask them for additional gifts, and when do you ask them to increase their monthly donation? In theory, this problem is rather easily solved. Make this your baseline protocol: Donors are asked to increase their giving every two or three years, and all donors are invited to make extra gifts for special needs a few times a year. Then look for exceptions. Take Fred Donor for example. He gives every time you ask him. He loves your organization, but he also loves the interaction. Fred is above the baseline. Mabel Donor, on the other hand, has told you her monthly gift is all she can give. You realize, either because she actually tells you or common sense prevails, that if you ask for more, you risk losing it all. She is below the baseline. José Donor gives monthly but loves big campaigns. You ask him for very large gifts for big campaigns every two or three years.



You need to have a clear baseline or your baseline will be what it is in many organizations: “Let’s not ask unless we really feel comfortable.”



In fact, many of your donors will not be on the baseline. But you need to have a clear baseline or your baseline will be what it is in many organizations: “Let’s not ask unless we really feel comfortable.” Like all of us, donors change how they want to be treated depending on their mood, who else is asking, what they perceive their financial situation to be, and so on. Sometimes the way donors say they want to be treated and the way they act are not the same. I’ve had donors say, “I am giving all I can” and then give a much bigger gift to a special project, or say, “I never give to events” and then buy a table at the gala. I once consulted with a community foundation who had a donor who gave $50,000 as her annual gift, but wanted to see specific programs at least once a month. Her total giving exceeded $250,000 and she was asked upwards of 14 times a year. When someone called her she would often say something like, “Do you think I am made of money?” or, “Don’t you have anyone else to call?” But if time went by and they didn’t call, she would call them, “Is anyone working over there? I haven’t seen any projects for weeks.”

So, what does an overburdened development department do? Add to your protocol: Every time you ask donors for an additional gift or an increase in their monthly gift, start by thanking them genuinely for what they have already done. Make sure they know that you know they don’t give this amount to everyone. Then lay out your case for a larger monthly gift or an extra gift. In addition, be in touch with donors when you don’t want money. Ask for advice or for some other kind of action. Tell them something exciting, “You will be reading about this in our e-blast, but just wanted to let you know…”

We all know that we will raise more money by asking than not asking. But not everyone we ask will say yes, and some people we ask may use our request as a time to blow off steam. Final addition to your protocol: Don’t take anything personally.

Hope this helps.

~Kim Klein