David’s Writing Clinic – the Ask Line

David’s Writing Clinic – the Ask Line

As you can imagine, I’ve gotten lots of solicitation mail these last few weeks. Let’s see how they did asking for money.

Just for context, I’ll share first that virtually every direct mail letter expert will tell you that asking for a specific amount of money will increase not only your response rate, but your total return as well. (If you’re not buying this, test it.) The language I have come to prefer goes something like this:

Please consider a gift this year of $100. If you can give more, please be as generous as you can. If $100 is not right, please consider a number that is more comfortable for you. No gift is too small; every gift counts.

I don’t want to call anyone out specifically, so I will leave off attribution for now. But the following paragraphs are word -for-word from the letters.


  1. I hope you enjoy reading the enclosed newsletter! If you like what you read, please consider supporting our work with a contribution today.

I like including a newsletter and connecting the ask with something else they find in the envelope. But the ask isn’t specific and notice how “our” work doesn’t include the reader. Perhaps “supporting this important work,” or “If this sounds like your work, please make a gift of $35 or more today.


  1. This holiday season, won’t you do your part to help conserve Texas land? Join us by making a tax-deductible, year-end gift to support our efforts to protect the lands and waters that give Texans so much.

Given the choice of “do your part” and “make a gift of $35,” the latter would have been much stronger and wouldn’t risk the negative reaction from those who might believe they are already doing their part. (And who are we to tell them what their part is?) Guilt rarely works in fundraising. Notice the “you” and “us” language.


  1. Your year-end gift today of $35 or $50, or whatever amount feels right to you, keeps ________ strong.

I like this – simple, straightforward, direct, not apologetic. Keep in mind that listing several amounts is the same as asking for the least of them. Make sure that’s what you want.


  1. At this time, we are asking you to consider making a year-end gift to ________ Land Trust. Your donation allows us to fulfill the dreams of our founders and the hopes of our members.

Why would this be compelling to a potential donor? Donors want to fulfill their own dreams!


  1. We are asking you to consider a tax-deductible gift to the ________. Will you make a commitment to the greater good of our community now and into the future?

Why is it so hard to be specific? “We are asking you to consider a tax-deductible gift of $50 to the ________.” Otherwise, this works for me. Tax-deductibility has not been shown to help people make giving decisions, but it doesn’t harm anything either.


  1. Your gift this holiday season will ensure that nature and green space is secure for generations to come. It will provide relief to the water resources we all too often take for granted. And it will provide access to nature before the chance to secure it passes us by. I’m honored to be part of this work and hope you will join me. Earth and Water give us life. It’s time to give back.

There is lots to like about this paragraph. Nature, greenspace, water resources – these are all things easy to agree with and support. The writer is honored to be a part of the work and invites the reader to join him/her personally. This is very different than using the “us” pronouns. I even like the “time to give back” line, though I doubt it would play in all communities. But still – even here – no specific ask.


  1. Please consider supporting ________ today with a gift of $50, $100, or even $250.

Yup – that’s it.


  1. With a donation from you today, we can work together to make a difference to those people, wildspots, and wildlife that rely on it so much.

Aside from the lack of a specific ask, this sounds like someone “fixed” the pronoun “we” by adding the word “together.” And it’s clear to me that s/he meant the adjective “those” to modify “people,” “wildspots,” and “wildlife” – all three. Unfortunately, it reads more like “those people.” What people?


Well – at least two of eight asked for money!

For the record, I have tested asking for specific amounts against just asking for “support.” Specific amounts always wins. I’ve also tested asking for $100 against asking for $35 or $50. The segment was members who had never before given $100 or more. The $100 ask drew fewer responses but raised about 30 percent more money with a much higher average gift.


If you have an ask line that you’re proud of, I’d like to see it. And I’d love to post some of the better ones. Send them to David “at” DevelopmentForConservation “dot” com.

Happy Holidays!



Photo credit: Holiday Ornament by Walt Kaesler.

* * * * *


Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for December. What are YOU thinking about?


Fall Appeal 2nd Drop

If my Year-end appeal has two drops, I am getting the second drop ready for mailing today or tomorrow. (See also Fall Appeal Planning)


Good News

From solicitations to newsletters, to updates and thank you letters, the importance of communicating warmth, openness, and a sense of momentum is magnified in December. People want to know that their gifts made a difference and were noticed. I’ve talked on this blog about communicating Good News. When I do, I try to remember that the donor is part of the “we” that got it done.


Planning for Year-End

This is NOT the time for fundraisers to take a vacation. This year, both Christmas and New Year’s Day are Sundays. That means that I am working that week to:

  • Be there to answer the phone when donors call to make a last-minute gift of stock.
  • Send out follow-up emails to people who have not yet responded to the Fall Appeal.
  • Write personal thank you letters.
  • Call my board members to tell them how much I appreciate them serving on the board.
  • Get my filing done.


Share this!
  • Brenda MacRoberts
    Posted at 13:24h, 22 December

    Hi David-
    I find your tips very helpful. With that in mind, could you give some suggestions for successful email subject lines that increase the open rate?

    Thank you.

  • Annie Socci
    Posted at 14:44h, 20 December


    Thank you for a very poignant blog in “The Ask Line”! I find myself drafting just such a message this morning as we launch a fundraising campaign for the remaining payments of a bargain sale on 128 forested acres that we acquired last week- your timing is perfect.

    Have a wonderful holiday and thank you for the good work that you do,


  • Gregory Warner
    Posted at 09:21h, 20 December

    This is terrific advise. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Also, I hope you don’t mind me sharing, but I wrote 8 ways to end letters when asking for money. These points fall nicely in line with yours.