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How to Ask for Donations: That Gets The Donations!

Major Gifts, Capital Campaigns, Planned Giving & Annual Gift Asks

I have taught many classes in fundraising and non-profit marketing in my career, and the number one question I get asked is...


I admit it's tough. You are sitting face-to-face with a donor with whom you have built a relationship, and now you need to ask them for money. In most cases, a lot of money.

Today, our focus is on major gift asks, but the principles we will cover apply to many kinds of requests, from emails to events.


The first step always begins with good prospect research. Prospect research is just that, researching your potential donor.

We start with an LIA rating. Forgive me if you are a seasoned fundraiser and know this; this is for our newbies. LIA is your potential donor's linkage to your organization, their interest in your agency or cause, and their ability to give.

Suppose the prospect has an excellent LIA rating. In that case, we call this a qualified prospect; then, we do deeper dive for detailed information on them. Such as determining their pain points and their motivations for giving. What are they passionate about? Who are they as a person? What is the right ask amount to ask for based on their giving history, capabilities, and priorities?

Nowadays, social media and the internet have made prospect research so much easier than when I started.

After completing our research, we need to begin the cultivation process. Again, for new fundraisers, cultivation is the process of gradually developing the prospect's interest and involvement in your organization. You don't ask someone to marry you on the first date, and fundraising is the same. Cultivation also helps you better understand the person or group and nurtures the relationship to the point where you can comfortably make a major gift ask.


I assume that you vastly understand your own organization's mission, values, and history. I also suppose you have a thorough knowledge of the campaign you are requesting funds for, its crucial stats, how it will impact, and how you will be reporting back to the donor and stewarding them.

The more confidence and understanding you have in your case and your agency, the better you present it.

We want to show the complete case statement with specific details. We also want to be ready to deliver our message concisely and succinctly in an elevator pitch.

There is a lot of information out there on creating a case, but here are some tips on developing your shorter summary or elevator pitch:

  • Start with the need in a few words. Identify the person, cause, or group that requires assistance. Use strong emotional phrasing to describe the need. Paint as powerful a picture as you can while using just a few words.

  • Present your ask. What are you asking them to do?

  • Add the 'because' to explain the impact of their gift.

  • Sum it up with how their donation will make a difference.

Here is an example. Our family foundation just made its annual donation to a domestic violence shelter that supports men escaping violence. I brought the charity forward and had to make a pitch for it with the family. I presented it in only a few words and got the entire family on board.

"We have done our sons a huge disservice by only teaching them NOT to hit women. I never spoke to my son about what would happen if he was abused. Worse yet, what if HE needed to escape from intimate partner violence. Wheatland Shelter needs our support with our annual donation. They are the only agency he could go to for help in our community. This donation will provide a bed for someone who has nowhere else to go and may even save a life."


Whether you are a professional fundraiser, a board member, an executive director, or a volunteer, you must do your research before going on the call. Know your prospect, know your organization, and know your case. It is equally important that you have the right person, ask the right person, at the right time, in the right way, for the right amount, for the right project, the right way.

Typically, a major gift ask is done in pairs. You can have the ED with a board member, a volunteer with your fundraiser, a volunteer with your ED, etc. The important thing is for each person to be aware of their role during the meeting.

You need to make sure that you and your partner making the ask with you has the same understanding of your prospect, your organization, and your ask.

Make sure to go in with a plan, and you can even practice before the meeting.


Setting the stage is very important. Face-to-face is always best. The meeting should be in an environment where you will not be interrupted, such as your prospect's office or on-site at your agency. A restaurant or coffee shop has too many distractions.

There are six steps to a model solicitation I had to learn when studying for my CFRE, which are:

1) Build a rapport, relax and engage in friendly chit-chat about things your donor is interested in (you learned all that when you did your prospect research).

2) State the case with sincerity and enthusiasm while focusing on the need, the impact, and the outcomes.

3) Encourage involvement by asking their opinion, asking for help, and asking for what you need.

4) Summarize the benefits/impact of their support and close. Note: This is where you use your elevator pitch, explicitly asking for their gift.

5) Be quiet and relax. Let them respond even if it takes a while.

6) Respond appropriately and answer any questions or speak to any objections.


Let's talk about possible responses and what to do next.

If yes, confirm what they committed and thank them. Repeat it back and let them know what the next steps are.

If no, find out more about why they objected. Is it timing, amount of funds requested, etc.? Perhaps they can stretch their gift out over time. Don't be pushy. Just learn from them, and you can even ask how to improve your request.

If maybe, book a time to follow up after they have considered.

If they offer you a lower amount, you can thank them for their generosity and accept the gift, or ask if they'd prefer more time to think about it and set a return appointment.

Regardless of their response, follow up within 24 hours with some form of a thank you.

Want to watch instead of read, watch our YouTube video on How to Ask for Donations.


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