According to author and well known life coach Shakti Gawain, “You create your opportunities by asking for them.” And the same certainly holds true for those of us in the fundraising profession. It is usually crystal clear when the time is right to ask for a gift… but equally murky on exactly how much to request. In my three decades as an advancement professional and consultant, I cannot recall a single training event or conference session which directly addressed how to configure the size of a philanthropic ask amount. This is both an art and a science given the wide range of intangibles and tangibles that go into the calculation.
Traditionally, many advancement shops rely heavily on their prospect researcher to come up with the goal figure. In general, this is a sound practice, but one that may not properly weigh many important variables, and likely leaves others out completely. In addition to financial research, advancement officers often pick up peripheral intelligence that provides key real time data about recent business events, interests, and personal priorities during their interactions with prospects. These factors can all affect the gift size and relationships that may exist with people loyal to an organization. While wealth information can provide an initial context for ask deliberations, flesh and blood variables also need to be added into the mix to arrive at the optimal request levels.
While a gift officer technically only asks a prospect for one number, technically they should have at least two, and sometimes three, in mind. These include:
- Prospect goal: After all is said and done, the actual gift amount the officer hopes to secure from the prospect.
- The ask: The size gift – based on respect, personal intelligence, research, and analysis – requested from the prospect. The expectation is that they will not say yes to the full amount.
- Expected: Based on a combination of rational and emotional factors, this is the figure that the gift officer expects to be the result of the gift conversation.
It would seem that advancement officers consider ask amounts through the lenses of their own experiences, biases, and comfort levels. To test this, I recently created five very standard ask scenarios. Each consisted of 21 variables, including financial data, gift history, community involvement, and relationships, among others. These were presented to senior fundraisers, each with a minimum of twenty years in the field. Each was asked provide a goal and ask amount for each scenario. The initial results are striking, and document a wide “low to high” range, even among highly seasoned professionals.
Scenario A LOW HIGH DIFFERENCE
Goal $5,000 $30,000 $25,000
Ask $7,500 $50,000 $42,500
Scenario B LOW HIGH DIFFERENCE
Goal $15,000 $50,000 $35,000
Ask $25,000 $100,000 $75,000
Scenario C LOW HIGH DIFFERENCE
Goal $25,000 $75,000 $50,000
Ask $50,000 $100,000 $50,000
Scenario D LOW HIGH DIFFERENCE
Goal $50,000 $100,000 $50,000
Ask $75,000 $250,000 $175,000
Scenario E LOW HIGH DIFFERENCE
Goal $100,000 $50,000 $40,000
Ask $150,000 $1,000,000 $850,000
So what might all this mean? All variables being equal, the primary lesson here is the importance of collaboration in preparing for an important ask. In some cases, like this, “group think,” or at least group input, is very important to capture as much actionable prospect data as possible. Gift officers should be encouraged to assemble appropriate groups of colleagues to consider informational inputs and to come to a consensus on the goal and ask amounts. This is especially critical for larger ask potentials, where the variability grows dramatically with larger gift considerations.
1. Gift ask amounts need to be determined through a combination of “art” (peripheral intelligence) and “science” (financial research) techniques.
2. Create variables that are consistent with your organization, reflective of your constituencies, and within your capabilities… and apply them consistently when determining goal and ask figures.
3. Use the wisdom of a group to nullify biases and outliers to arrive at the most appropriate goal and ask figures.
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