Questions to Ask Yourself Before Asking a Donor for an Increase


Over the life of your hopefully ongoing relationship with each of your individual donors, there may come a moment (or moments) when it is time to ask them to increase their annual gift to your organization. There are plenty of tools-of-the-trade that you can put to use in this process – for instance, you might adjust the minimum giving levels on the pledge cards you send with annual mailings, or alter the donation levels for your patron program. Ever the proponent of donor research, however, we’d like to suggest a thoughtful and personal approach to securing an increased gift from an annual donor.

Here are a few factors we urge you to consider when you’re making an ask for an increase:

1. When? In fundraising, as in life, timing is everything. The question of when to make the ask is about the timing of a number of factors: When did the donor last make a gift to your organization? When does the donor typically make their decisions around charitable giving for the year? When is the donor planning to spend most of their disposable income? For example, if you have a donor who is paying for their child’s wedding, the months leading up to that event are not likely to be productive times to ask for an increased gift. On the other hand, if you know that the donor makes all their giving decisions in December when they sit down to write checks before the end of the tax year, November is probably a great time to get in front of them.

This is likely not information that you’ll be able to find in a database or doing a google search. Rather, this kind of information is one of the benefits that comes with personal donor stewardship. If you are taking the time to make phone calls, send personal notes, and talk to your donors in person when the opportunities arise, you’ll learn information like this, and you will be able to form more of a partnership with your donors around their support of your organization. Your donors will feel heard and cared for when you take these things into account.

2. How Much? This can be a tricky question. If you don’t know enough about a donor’s personal finances, it can be difficult to tell what your increased ask should be. Asking too much may create some tension in the relationship with the donor, but asking too little means that you are leaving valuable dollars on the table that might be put to use enriching the lives of the people you serve. This is where databases of publicly available information come into play. By looking through an individual’s giving history, you can start to assess what their capacity may be to give, and what the likelihood is that they would give a larger gift to an organization like yours. Keep in mind that a donor’s capacity may change over time, so even if you’ve done this research before, it is worth refreshing your knowledge and updating your records.

Just as with the question of “When?,” you may also get your answers to the question of “How Much?” from conversations with your donor. A donor who feels appreciated is much more likely to have an open conversation with you about how much they are able or willing to give to your organization. They may even outright tell you that they are interested in getting more deeply involved.

3. How? When planning to ask for an increase, make sure to consider how you’re going to do it. Who is going to be making the ask? Will it be in person, on the phone, or in writing? Use the information that you’ve been collecting through your personal interactions with your donor in order to determine how to answer these questions. Does the donor have a greater affinity for one member of your leadership team over another? Is there a programmatic interest area that they would prefer to fund?

A face-to-face meeting is the gold standard, but that’s not always possible or practical. If that’s not an option, use the mode of communication that they most prefer. Do they prefer to consider something in writing, or to talk through their gift over the phone? If they prefer texting or emails, start the conversation there. Using their preferred mode of communication signals that you know them and want to do what’s most comfortable for them.

There is no guarantee of success with every ask, of course, but over time your investment in getting answers to these questions will pay off. Just remember to be thoughtful, be personal, and keep thorough records!