Asking for Donations: 4 Non-Negotiable Rules to Live By

Elicia Tedrow
May 27, 2015

Check out our top rules for asking for donations.

For many nonprofit professionals, asking for donations from prospective givers is seen as one of the toughest challenges to nonprofit fundraising.

After all, it’s one thing to lay the groundwork for donors to give of their own accord. When your team directly makes solicitations for gifts, that requires a completely different set of skills (and specific donor management software tools).

Whether you’re reaching out to an individual to make your ask or sending out a wide-reaching solicitation, there’s a lot your team needs to be prepared for.

It’s time to take your nonprofit’s solicitation strategy to the next level! Check out our top non-negotiable rules for making the big ask:

  1. Research your donors before making an ask.
  2. Offer donors different giving levels to choose from.
  3. Make your solicitations personal for donors.
  4. Implement integrated marketing tactics.

Before your nonprofit’s next campaign, be sure your solicitation strategy is in order. Let’s dive into these essential tips for making an ask.

Research your donors before making an ask.

1. Research your donors before making an ask.

Don’t walk into your solicitations without first doing your homework! By knowing exactly who your prospective donors are, you’ll be better equipped to tailor your asks to individual supporters or different donor cohorts.

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of potential donors out there who want to give, but who haven’t been asked in the right way yet. Donors respond well to asks when the solicitations are shaped perfectly to fit their needs.

There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solicitation that you can extend. Whether you’re reaching out to an individual or extending an ask to a specific donor group, it’s best to start from a place of knowledge and understanding.

Check out some of these strategies for making your asks personal for donors:

  • Invest in a nonprofit CRM. The best way to learn about your donor community is to track relationships in a nonprofit CRM. This way, every interaction you have with donors will be accounted for in the system. When the time comes to make your ask, you can review the prospect’s history and personal details and use that data to shape your ask.
  • Create different donor segments. Sort different supporters into donor segments, or groups of supporters who share similar characteristics. You might create donor segments based on giving history, wealth indicators, gender, preferred giving channels, or other important factors. Consider an donor’s particular segment when preparing your ask.
  • Be aware of their giving history. When asking for a donation, keep in mind your donors’ giving history at your cause. For example, an individual who has never donated before will require a different asking strategy than a donor who regularly provides major gifts. Use your CRM to track giving history for all of your supporters.
  • Offer multiple ways to give back. Instead of just asking for a donation, remember to give your supporters flexibility in how they give back. The more options supporters have, the more likely it is that they’ll make a contribution of some kind, even if it’s not a direct donation.

The bottom line? The more you know about your donors, the better you’ll be able to shape your solicitations to their needs and preferences. Before you make your next ask, be sure to do ample research into your donors.

Offer donors different giving levels to choose from.

2. Offer donors different giving levels to choose from.

Consider this common solicitation scenario: a nonprofit extends an ask to a donor, and the donor turns it down because they’re unable to give at the level the nonprofit asked for.

How frustrating can this be? All nonprofit organizations understand that any gift is a good gift, but most donors don’t see it that way. In general, your supporters feel that when they’re asked to provide a specific gift, they can either say yes or turn down the ask entirely.

When this happens, your nonprofit needs to show donors that they can still give at a level that’s comfortable for them. In fact, countering a declined ask with a smaller solicitation amount is one of the best ways your team can secure a gift.

Keep in mind the following strategies as you determine how giving levels should factor into your solicitation strategy:

  • Determine your giving levels. First, your team should set giving levels (or gift ranges) and determine how many donors you need to provide gifts at each level to reach your goal. If a prospect turns down a gift you assigned to them, counter with a solicitation at the next giving level.
  • Add gift suggestion buttons to giving forms. Similarly, if you’re extending a general solicitation, include gift suggestion buttons representing your different giving levels on your donation forms. Donors might decide to up their gift to the next giving level, or see that you need smaller gifts and decide to give even if they originally weren’t interested.
  • Recognize different donor levels. Some donors mistakenly feel that supporters who give smaller amounts aren’t as important as those who give larger gifts. Be sure to recognize the impact of your donors across the different giving levels by shining the spotlight on standout supporters across the spectrum.
  • Try to convert donors to the next giving level. Your giving levels can also be a guide for how you increase a donor’s average gift size over time. If a person regularly gives at your mid-range giving level, for example, your next ask may be successful if you request that they give a one-time major gift.

The bottom line? Knowing what kinds of gifts you’ll need to reach your goals isn’t just important for your nonprofit’s staff. Making your giving levels public can also be helpful for your donors, and can be leveraged to secure more revenue over time.

Digital Fundraising Checklist

 Make your solicitations personal for donors.

3. Make your solicitations personal for donors.

For your donors, one major factor in their decision to accept or reject your ask is whether the solicitation feels like it’s personal.

After all, if an individual feels like just anyone can provide the gift that you’re looking for, they’ll be less inclined to make a donation. If your team wants to secure more gifts, you’ll have to make sure that your solicitations are truly personal.

Luckily, there are a number of ways your team can add a personal touch when asking for donations, especially when you’ve invested in robust donor database software. The more data you have on hand about donors, the more personalized your asks will be.

Take a look at the following strategies you can leverage to personalize solicitations:

  • Draft custom solicitations in your CRM. When writing formal solicitation letters and emails, your team can use your CRM to create customized templates for different campaigns, donor segments, times of year, and more.
  • Use your donors’ real names and identifiers. Instead of simply saying “Dear Supporter” or “Dear Donor,” be sure to include your constituents’ actual names in the salutation. Using your CRM, you can flow identifiers like names and prefixes (Ms., Mr.,  Dr., etc.) from your CRM and into your solicitation templates.
  • Remember to send direct mail asks. While extending digital solicitations has become the default for many organizations, don’t discount the power of a tangible direct mail ask. Donors respond well to letters like these, and you can customize letter templates in your CRM in much the same way you would with emails.
  • Consider making solicitation phone calls. Similarly, phone solicitations are a great way to show donors that you value their personal contributions. However, these solicitations tend to perform better with older constituents with a higher giving capacity, so remember to consult your donor lists before leveraging this strategy.

The bottom line? When donors feel like your nonprofit cares about their personal contribution, they’ll be more likely to make a gift. Be sure to use the information you’ve learned about donors in your nonprofit’s CRM to shape your personalized solicitation strategy.

 Implement integrated marketing tactics.

4. Implement integrated marketing tactics.

One major factor that nonprofits sometimes overlook is the importance of marketing when it comes to making a successful solicitation.

Many organizations are under the mistaken impression that your marketing work is done as soon as prospects become familiar with your cause. On the contrary! Marketing your nonprofit well is an important part of soliciting gifts and can make all the difference when asking for a donation.

Think of it this way: when you ask a donor to give, you need to make the case for supporting your organization as well as convince the donor that their gift is absolutely necessary. If either of these factors are unclear to your prospect, they may not decide to give to your cause.

Keep in mind the following integrated marketing strategies that can help your team inspire donors to give:

  • Brand your donation page. Your nonprofit’s giving page should appear like a seamless extension of your organization. This way, donors feel comfortable sharing their payment information and are reminded of where their gift is going.
  • Use peer-to-peer fundraising to make your ask. One marketing tactic to help secure more gifts is to ask dedicated supporters to launch peer-to-peer fundraising pages. By marketing a gift to your cause as a donation on behalf of your volunteer fundraiser, their friends and family will be more inclined to donate.
  • Track marketing metrics in your CRM. Did you know your nonprofit’s CRM can be one of your best marketing tools? Use your donor database to track marketing metrics like open rates, click through rates, and impressions to see which marketing content is performing the best. Then, use this data to shape how you share asks.

The bottom line? Marketing your cause well can play a crucial role in making successful solicitations. Remember to implement smart marketing best practices when asking for donations, and don’t forget to leverage your CRM’s data to inform your asking strategy.

Building a strong solicitation strategy can be challenging for nonprofits large and small, but with these best practices your team is sure to reach your goals!

If you want to unlock more strategic fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:

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