Donation Ask Amounts: 4 Rules That Will Help Increase Giving

Fundraising appeals may seem simple, but the truth is that there’s a lot of thought that goes into deciding the right donation ask amounts to include. It might even seem like there’s never a perfect answer to “How much should we ask for?”

Ask for too much, and the donor might feel like they won’t make an impact with their gift. Ask for too little, and you’re leaving giving potential on the table. Add this “what-should-we-ask-for” conundrum to the fundraising environment that seems to change by the minute—what’s a nonprofit to do?

Between infinite online and offline engagement channels and the increase of new, similar-missioned nonprofits entering the scene, it might seem impossible to break through the noise and get noticed by donors.

Donors Want to Give

Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children, once said, “We have to devise means of making known the facts in such a way to touch the imagination of the world. The world is not ungenerous, but unimaginative and very busy.”

Fast forward more than 100 years later, Jebb’s words still ring true. Even with headlines proclaiming that people are becoming less generous, that’s just not the case. People are still as generous. Remember, the pandemic escalated giving, and generosity is still up from 2019.

The difference is that donor priorities are changing. Instead of donating to any nonprofit, they seek real connections with these organizations. They value the integrity of being properly recognized.

If your organization wants to meet these evolving donor expectations, it’s time to enhance your fundraising strategies and put donors at the center of your messaging.

To best understand how to make ask amounts that are likely to convert into donations, this blog will highlight topics covered in the webinar, “How Much Should You Ask For? How to Set the Perfect Ask Amounts for Your Appeals.”


How Responsive Fundraising Can Help With Donation Ask Amounts

The traditional model of fundraising is no longer working. Our donors are becoming sophisticated in how they like to engage with us. They can see through the impersonal experiences that include mass emails, generic giving levels, and impersonalized communication.

Responsive fundraising is a modern approach that builds and deepens meaningful relationships with donors through the use of technology and data. Pairing these powerful innovations with true human-to-human interactions, responsive nonprofits are listening to their donors, making connections with them, offering relevant suggestions, and learning from their actions.

Virtuous is a true all-in-one nonprofit CRM hard-wired with data intelligence, marketing automation features, online giving tools, and volunteer management capabilities. Equipped with a donor management system that offers a comprehensive view of trends in giving behaviors and capacities, nonprofits can use these learnings to inform how much they should be asking for.

Virtuous CRM screenshot of responsive dashboard.

Nonprofits like Made to Flourish use the Virtuous responsive dashboard to better understand donor giving potential through key data points like gift history, social network behaviors, wealth data, and demographic data. Using this information, organizations can make suggested gift asks that are likely to convert into donations.

For Made to Flourish, Virtuous has identified the best next steps for donors to take and has often felt like an extension of their team.

“I feel like I have Virtuous beside me, managing relationships and helping us wealth screen right away, assign people to portfolios, and give updates. It’s really like an extra member of our team.”

Rebekah Jones, Development Director

Primary Types of Donor Personas

How do you decide which ask amounts to include in your annual appeal? The most obvious answer is typically… it depends! But the truth is that if you want to define these giving levels, you have to look at your donor base to establish the right fit for each type of donor. This is where the value of donor personas comes into play.

Nic Prenger and Andrew Menke of AskGenius have identified six primary donor personas that are typical of annual appeals.

Let’s talk about them.

ask amounts

1. Steady Eddy

This type of donor has been giving to your organization for a long time. They consistently give the same amount. For example, Eddy has been giving $100 to a hospital foundation’s year-end campaign consistently for five years.

With a Steady Eddy donor, it’s unlikely that you can get them to upgrade their gift. The right messaging might sway them to give an extra gift throughout the year. However, if you ask them for less, there’s a chance they might decrease their giving.

For these types of donors, you want to intervene before they get too comfortable with their routine giving amounts.

2. First-Gift Fran

These donors are ripe with opportunities for upgrades. If you make the first donation experience a pleasant one, you can encourage the donor to give more in their next gift. But don’t go right into sending them an appeal directly after you receive their initial donation.

It’s important to acknowledge their contribution and share what kind of impact it made on your mission.

3. Campaign Cathy

Campaign Cathy is a previous donor who typically has never given to annual appeals or quarterly mailings. Instead, this donor likely gave a significant gift in a one-off campaign.

The way to nurture this donor to give again is by acknowledging their contribution to your campaign. It’s also helpful to share how that contribution was used to fund your mission. Finally, consider inviting them to in-person visits to your facility to see your team in action. Then, you can make annual asks or even ask them to make monthly donations.

4. Checkbox Charlie

While having all types of donors in your file is beneficial, Checkbox Charlies are the ideal supporter. This donor will usually check off the first box in the pledge card or online donation form. They will do this as long as the ask is reasonable.

If you ask Checkbox Charlie for reasonable increases, they will likely level up their support each time. These donors are loyal, and as long as you have a consistent stewardship strategy, you’ll retain them over time.

5. Infrequent Earl

Sifting through your data, this type of giver might get overlooked as a non-donor. This is especially true if they gave a single gift years ago. But don’t make the mistake of assuming! Your team should be looking at their entire donation history because although Infrequent Earl makes major gifts—when they make a contribution, it’s going to be a generous sum.

The infrequency of their gifts is likely caused by their busy work lives. They tend not to remember if they’re not reminded. Increase this donor’s frequency by communicating with them often, sharing upcoming milestones and goals of your fundraising efforts, and making asks.

6. Hidden Gem Helen

In your database, this donor might frequently give smaller gifts, but their capacity to give is much, much higher. They might have contributed their largest gifts to a local university’s capital campaign and have a building named after them. That’s why they’re a hidden gem.

To identify these donors in your file, make sure you’re doing wealth research. There are many available on the market, like AskGenius, that can make calculations based on wealth and capacity.

4 Rules to Making the Right Donation Ask Amount

There are several factors to consider when brainstorming which suggested gift amounts to include in your annual appeal. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, Prenger and Menke pointed out a few industry misconceptions and generalizations that might negatively affect how you’re raising funds for your mission.

1. Gift Arrays Aren’t the Best Ask Amounts Strategy for Everyone

For organizations that send out annual direct mail appeals, there are two main kinds of pledge cards: open-ended and gift arrays.

ask amounts

So, which one should your organization be using?

Prenger and Menke found in their years of research that gift arrays are effective for everyone except major donors.

In fact, if you want to unlock larger donations from your major donors, they should receive open-ended pledge cards.

ask amounts

There’s a psychological reasoning behind it. Major donors aren’t going to feel as good about their generosity if they’re checking off a pre-filled box. You want these high-net-worth donors to feel empowered to come to a decision themselves and physically write down the gift amount.

For every other donor, gift arrays work well. But don’t make the mistake of sending everyone generic amounts. This goes for pledge cards or donation forms. Make sure you’re personalizing the gift string based on previous gift history and the suggested capacity.

ask amounts

The Order to Display Donation Ask Amounts

The way you display your ask amounts matters. Many assume that displaying the gift arrays left to right from the highest amount to the lowest might convert larger gifts. However, Prenger and Menke found that going from lowest to highest is more effective. This actually leads to 17% more gifts.

From their perspective, here’s why: If you start with a large amount that isn’t within the donor’s financial capacity, they are forced to go down the list until they hit an amount that is feasible for them.

The further down in the giving levels they have to go, the less impact they feel they can make with their gift. At worst, they might not give at all.

2. Personalized Donation Ask Amounts Are More Effective

You shouldn’t be asking all of your donors for the same amounts.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula that is going to fit every single donor profile. This leads to an impersonal donor experience and missed giving opportunities.

For organizations like Morgan Autism Center, having a responsive platform like Virtuous has been a game-changer in how they can steward relationships with donors.

“During last year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, we were able to identify the people who had supported Giving Tuesday the year before. We were then able to send a personalized email versus the generic one that went out to non-donors. Being able to really tease out that information has been helpful.”

Lisa Lemke, Development Director

Standard ask amounts have a minimal effect on giving, while a dynamic ask string has the potential to significantly increase your donor’s lifetime value.

ask amounts

“If you have everyone the same ask amount, you would see about a 4.5% increase in their giving year over year, which is about inflation. It’s what you would expect,” Prenger explains. “If you set personalized ask amounts for folks, we see an average of 29% increase in average gift size. This is the core of what we’re talking about—setting those personalized ask amounts for everybody.”

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for More in Your Ask Amounts

The most common tactic many nonprofits take to upgrade annual gifts is increasing donation ask amounts by 10%. However, the reality is that this 10% rule only works in about one in five donors and leaves generosity potential on the table.

ask amounts

In most cases, nonprofits aren’t asking nearly enough from their current donors. What Prenger and Menke suggest is taking a firmer approach.

In the screenshot below, Prenger emphasizes moderate and aggressive ask amounts, which leads to a jump between 10% to 50% for major donors and 25% to 1,150% for everyone else.

ask amounts

4. Small-Gift Donors Can Have a High Capacity to Give

When you’re sifting through a file of thousands of donors, it’s easy to assume that if someone gives a $100 donation, that’s their capacity to give.

Let’s say you have two donors who both have given $100 in the past. While $100 might be the most Donor A can give, Donor B might just be getting to know you and would be willing to give 10 times more if they felt a deeper connection with your cause.

This is where wealth screening comes in handy. With intelligent insights, you can make the right ask at the right time to the right donor.

How Data Intelligence Can Inform Donation Ask Amounts

With technology partners like Virtuous and AskGenius, nonprofits have vital donor information at their fingertips, including wealth research, donor history, and behavioral indicators, informing them of which gift options to include in their annual appeals.

The seamless integration between Virtuous and AskGenius gives nonprofits access to mission-critical tools, allowing them to tailor their fundraising approach to fit each individual donor to create a more personalized experience for donors.

To learn more, schedule a call with one of our team members.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

If you know another nonprofit pro who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via Email, Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

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