8 “Rules” for Determining How Much to Ask For

8 “Rules” for Determining How Much to Ask For


8 June 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


It’s June! Welcome to summer!


From a fundraising point of view, think about this: You will ask just about everyone currently giving money to make another gift between now and 12/31.

How much will you ask them for?


I get asked this fairly often. So, several years ago, I developed a few general rules of thumb based on what I have actually used in my work and career. Most of these “rules” assume that you will be asking in person, though they could be adopted for more general appeals as well. They won’t work as well in broadcast media like online “gives days” and social media.

The rules also assume that the request is specific, which is considered a best practice among experienced fundraisers. In other words, appeal letters that ask for $100 will generally raise more money than those that do not ask for a specific amount. (You can test this.)


For Land Conservation Projects and Campaigns:


  1. Start with the actual cost of the conservation work. This amount explicitly includes all closing costs, initial stewardship, and stewardship endowment. When you build your giving table (pyramid), the lead gift is generally 25-40% of the total. If you are asking one donor to make a gift greater than 40% of the actual amount needed, you should be careful.
  2. Next, consider the donor’s giving history and their largest gift to date. Calculate a number 20 times their largest gift. Regardless of their actual capacity, I would be careful about asking for more than this calculated amount. A prospect might be worth billions, but if their largest gift to us is $5,000, I’d think twice about asking for more than $100,000. Note that I am not suggesting that anyone actually ask for this amount without further consideration. I am suggesting this amount as a maximum.
  3. Regardless of the above, I’ll ask anybody for $1,000. Many people spend that on designer coffee and internet service every year. Got a smart phone? – you’re capable of $1,000.
  4. Therefore, by extension, I’ll ask anyone for a five-year pledge totaling $5,000 – assuming it’s for a program or project they have fallen in love with.


For Unrestricted or Annual Giving


  1. For annual gifts (aka “upgrades”), start with what they actually gave last year. It’s OK, in this sense to consider the amount they gave cumulatively, as long as they left the gifts unrestricted. Now calculate a number 4 times what they gave last year. This is your starting point. You should always consider the individual. I don’t generally like asking someone to jump their gift more than about 4 times in one step, but that’s not a formula – it’s a starting point consideration. So, from $100 to $250 is OK, and $250 to $1,000 is fine, but $200 to $1,000 feels like too much – to me.
  2. Ask everyone who gave less than $100 for $100, at least in the first letter of a sequence. Many people, even those having given less than $25, will make the jump to $100 if asked. Those who do not, can be asked for smaller amounts in follow-up letters. When I’ve tested $35 against $25, and $50 against $35, I’ve seen the same level of response and raised more money. When I’ve tested $100 against $50, I’ve seen a depressed response and raised more money. Therefore, when you ask for $100 in a first letter, I recommend planning a follow-up mailing within six weeks to those who do not respond. The follow-up can ask for an amount closer to what they gave last year.
  3. If the donor did not make a gift last year (ie they are lapsed), ask for an amount closer to what they gave most recently.


Special for Board members.

(You know what I’m going to say.)


  1. It is not unfair to ask Board members to give $20 a week ($1,000) to the organization they lead. And it’s not unfair to expect at least $20 a month ($250). I’m not a fan of threshold minimums for Board members, as long as their giving is greater than zero. It is unfair to ask others to give when Board members do not.



I would be interested in your experience here. What rules (written or unwritten) do you use intuitively to help you determine what to ask for?


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by World Wildlife courtesy of Stocksnap.io.



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