Remember to Ask for Money!

Remember to Ask for Money!


24 August 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


It’s been years since I last tested different ask amounts, and I’m not in a position this year to test them now. Maybe this post will inspire someone to do so this year and share their results.


What is he talking about?

When you send your appeal letter out this Fall, the amount of money you receive back will be related to two things: the number of people who respond and the average gift. Both of these factors will be influenced by how much you ask for.

Just to clear, I am talking about really asking for money in the appeal letter. The following sentences were taken from appeal letters I have received from land trust organizations in the last year. None of them actually asked for money.

  • Please consider an additional gift this year because 100% of it will be matched and each dollar you give will have twice the impact.
  • Please use the enclosed return envelope to mail in your tax-deductible contribution, or give safely online.
  • I hope you will be a part, rise to the challenge and seize this moment.
  • Please show your support for our natural legacy today by making a gift with the enclosed envelope.
  • Please take a moment right now to help us keep this momentum going.


Failure to ask is one of the six fundraising mistakes some of us will make this Fall. (See Six Mistakes Some of Us Will Make Fundraising This Fall – 1/2, 3/4, 5/6). We still receive gifts in the mail when we don’t ask, which is why this gets confusing. But failing to ask means we will raise less money.

Why not say: “Please consider a gift this year of $100.”



OK – so back to testing.

  • When I last tested $25 against $35, I got the same number of responses and a higher average gift – ergo, I raised more money.
  • When I tested $35 against $50, I got the same number of responses and a higher average gift – ergo, I raised more money.
  • When I tested $50 against $100, I got FEWER responses and a higher average gift – AND I raised more money.


In other words, you can safely ask for gifts up to $50 without risk of turning people off. But going from $50 to $100 starts to affect the number of people who respond, even though you end up raising more money.

So, if your goal is number of responses – like recruitment mail, for example – keep the ask amount lower. If your goal is raising money, ask for larger gifts.

You can test this yourself this year. Use a random number generator to divide your list into two statistically equivalent parts, and A and a B. Ask the A list for one amount, and ask the B list for a different amount. Remember to code the response cards, so you know which gifts came from which letter.

I would be interested in your results.


But consider this: you can eat your cake and have it, too.

This is your Fall appeal. You are mailing it for the purpose of raising money (presumably). You are mailing it to everyone who has given money recently (presumably).

Why not send two letters this year? Send the first one in late October and the second one (to those who did not respond to the first letter) right after Thanksgiving. Ask for $100 in the first and $50 in the second.


HINT: You could write, print, stuff, and stamp all your first appeal letters NOW, in August, and hold them for mailing in October.


And just to cover the bases here:

  • DON’T mail letters asking for $50 or $100 to those who gave more than that last year. Pull these people out and ask them for larger amounts.
  • Using an ask string, like “Please consider a gift of $50, $100, $200, or more” is the same as asking for the LOWEST amount in the string.
  • If you use an ask string for the response card, you should still ask for a specific amount of money in the letter. I like response card strings that begin one step lower than the letter ask, and include the letter ask and at least one amount higher.


I would love to learn from your experience. Please share what you are testing this year and what your results were.


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 Frank Winkler courtesy of Pixabay.

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  • Shelly Torkelson
    Posted at 11:23h, 24 August

    Thank you for these thoughts! I have always used custom ask strings for each donor based on their past giving: last gift, last gift x 1.5, and last gift x 2 in direct mail. I’ve read your post several times and I can’t figure out if you’re suggesting something different?

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:15h, 24 August

      Not different, just not as rigid. If I was asking for $100 in the letter, my ask string on the response card might be $50, $100, $250 and Other. BUT – if you use an ask string in the letter, the string is only as good as its lowest value. Therefore an ask string in the letter of $50, $100, $250 and Other is the same as asking for $50. Consequently, I do NOT recommend using an ask string in the letter – just on the response card.

      Thank you for the question!


  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:11h, 24 August

    Be brave and segment your list! I appreciate the information regarding ask strings David.