By Nancy Peterman, Partner
Best practices dictate that a solicitation includes an ask for a specific amount. How do organizations determine the correct amount? This is a question that is raised repeatedly in every campaign and frequently in annual giving programs with personal, face-to face solicitations. It is also one that confounds leadership and volunteers, especially those who are new to philanthropic undertakings. Here are five brief musings which might help you to better understand the concept of asking for a specific amount:
- Ask amounts are much more art than science. There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration including past giving to the organization and to other charities, capacity as determined from a wealth screening, lifestyle indicators (cars, homes, planes, boats, clothes, jewelry, vacations, etc.), peer information and employment when determining an appropriate amount. Sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to find information about other philanthropic giving. It may be difficult to find records of gifts from donors who give anonymously or via donor advised funds. It may be problematic to confirm information about donors with common names or for those who live well below their means. Some organizations ask for a percentage of identified net worth, ranging anywhere from 2-10%; however, none has perfected a model or method to determine the ideal ask amount.
- You can’t always trust casual conversation about ask amounts. Rarely does one complain publically that the solicited amount was too low. Ask amounts that are appropriate or low are generally not discussed or disclosed which means that if there is chatter about ask amounts, it resulted from someone who felt that the requested amount was too great. Sometimes, the story of a prospect or prospects who felt they were asked for amounts well beyond their reach will make the rounds in a community. Campaigns which use this feedback to reconsider or reset the amount of other unrelated solicitations may have difficulty in reaching their goals. Though some comparisons can be made among prospects, it is important to keep in mind that each solicitation should be an individual, discrete action based upon that donor’s history and capacity.
- Philanthropy is totally voluntary. It is not a tax or an assessment. No one has to give a certain amount or any amount for that matter. With varying capacities, inclinations, and affiliations, donors who appear similar may give very differently. Generally, the initial ask amount is more than what the person may ultimately decide to give. Rarely do the majority of pledges or gifts exactly match the initial ask amount, and an even more infrequent occurrence is obtaining a gift or pledge which is greater than the ask amount. Where there are indicators of great capacity, the organization will want to signal via the initial solicitation discussion that it is seeking and would like the prospect to consider a significant or stretch gift commensurate with his/her capacity.
- No matter the research and preparation conducted, there are unknown factors that aren’t revealed until the gift is solicited. Some prospects may have noteworthy capacity indicators and indeed may have given generously in the past, but may be experiencing unexpected expenses, providing financial support for family members, or suffering adverse business conditions. As is often the case, the solicitation can lead to a discussion of the amount, timing, payment terms, gift type and other factors. During the solicitation, the solicitor should be skilled enough to negotiate the amount of the ask and to ensure that the prospect feels respected and integral to the success of the campaign. That means, in spite of the advance work, if conversation during the solicitation indicates that the ask amount is in the wrong range, a new amount should be discussed. As always, the ask amount is a suggestion or recommendation, never a demand. If the solicitor does not think the ask amount is appropriate, he/she should have the flexibility to adjust it accordingly.