The Biggest Mistake You Can Make in Fundraising

The Biggest Mistake You Can Make in Fundraising


26 July 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


It’s a little hard to believe, but there are very few things that can go completely wrong when asking for money.

  • Assuming that the person you are asking has heard about the organization.
  • Assuming that the organization is doing something worth doing – something they approve of.
  • And assuming that you have not abused their trust in the past.


You don’t always get what you ask for. You don’t always get anything at all.

But it usually doesn’t go completely wrong.

So, when I look back on the actual mistakes I have made, they really come down to variations of just one:

Not asking.


The most obvious example I can think of was the Smith graduate who was so angry that I had “wasted her time” by never getting to the ask that she called one of the Board members to complain about me.

Lesson Learned.


I was reliving that experience recently when I read through another set of appeal letters that never actually asked for money. One asked for “renewal,” one asked the reader to “be generous again this year,” while a third informed the reader that their gift this year was “more important than ever.”

Each letter was presuming that the reader would flip to the response card where there was an “ask string” starting at $35. (Each letter was also assuming that anyone would actually read the letter.)


If this describes your organization, try something new this year.

First – ask for $100 on every page of the letter. Front and Back. You won’t actually have to change that much. Just say: “Please consider renewing this year with a gift of $100.” Or, “Please be generous again this year with a gift of $100.” Or, “Your gift of $100 or more is more important than ever.”

Second, include a paragraph toward the end of the letter along these lines:

Please consider a gift this year of $100 or more. If you can do more, please be as generous as possible. If $100 isn’t right, please find a number that feels better for you. Every gift matters and no gift is too small to make a difference.


Third, scrap your pre-printed large-flap envelopes and use a simple card requesting

$100                Other


Fourth, include a plain, #9 return envelope with your address printed on the front.

Fifth, send this letter to everyone who has gave $99 or less last year. For donors who gave $100 or more, use a different ask amount.


So what do you think will happen? Will you get the same number of responses? More? Fewer? Will you raise more money?


For extra credit, mail this letter to half of your donors, with the other half getting a letter more like what you “asked for” last year. (For extra, extra credit, share your results with me.)

And if you really want to hedge your bets, mail the letter you would have mailed anyway as a follow-up letter five weeks after this one.


I think you might get fewer responses, making my suggestion of a follow-up letter more important. I also think you will raise more money. By actually asking for money.

Lesson Learned.


For more information, see also:

Ask Strings and Donor Upgrading

Remember to Ask for Money!

Ask for Something Specific!


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



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