Successful fundraising depends on a number of things, not the least of which is the attitude of the person raising funds. Too often I find that people involved with fundraising—both professional staff and volunteers—are uncomfortable asking for money. More, they are uncomfortable getting to the point where they can ask for a charitable gift.

I’ve seen fundraisers walk into a solicitation meeting where the amount of an expected gift is a topic of discussion for the very first time. And often, the amount being asked for is a hope rather than an expectation.

Major gift fundraising requires that you talk about money and amount from the start. The prospects you are cultivating typically are not new to philanthropy. They expect it, and you must feel comfortable broaching the subject.

A fine start to a first conversation with a major donor prospect would be words to the effect of “Joan, thank you for meeting. Because you are such a fabulous regular supporter of our work, I wanted to talk with you about:

  • Increasing your ongoing support to $20,000 a year
  • This amazing project I think you would be interested in supporting at the $250,000 level
  • An endowment gift. You are so supportive of what we do today, I want to talk to you about tomorrow—and an endowment gift that would ultimately kick off $50,000 each and every year.

Your numbers, of course, may differ from these, as might the projects and programs for which you are requesting support. You might not start off with an amount, but might talk about a project that will cost $1,000,000 or a campaign where you hope to raise many millions. You could use a gift range chart to show how you think you are going to raise the money and note that while you are not asking for a gift now, if they were to consider such a gift, where would they see themselves on this chart. If you haven’t created a chart, you could simply ask them at what level they would consider supporting this project or campaign.

Campaigns also often offer naming opportunities. Using the naming chart—the level at which someone would get a building, room, tree in the courtyard named for them, their family, a loved one—where they would like to see their name.

Another good way to begin qualifying the right number to ask for would to be to bring up a large gift someone else has made and say that you are wondering if this is an amount that could be something they could match.

Just as you must be clear about your purpose for wanting to get together it’s a a prospect, you must also be clear about the about the amount you are both thinking about. Too often, a gift officer or volunteer is thinking in 6 figures, only to find that they are talking to a high 4 figure/low 5 figure donor.

Above all, it is critical that you are proud of the work you do and passionate about the cause or organization you work or volunteer for.

I believe that charitable giving is something joyous for the donor. If you are not convinced that your job is to open a door and offer an amazing opportunity to your prospects, it will be hard for them to feel that what they are doing is something very important and special.



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