$250 is a magic number

$250 is a magic number



5 December 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I think $250 is a magic number in fundraising.

It’s a small enough number that everyone can afford it. Some will argue that point, but I’m talking about $20 a month – there aren’t many people in the country who couldn’t afford $20 a month, if they were interested and motivated.

And yet, $250 is a big enough number that people don’t make it lightly. If someone gives you $250, it means something. They care. They’re connected. They appreciate what you are doing. And they want to contribute in a non-trivial, non-token way.

So if everyone can afford it and few people give it, what’s up with that? And more importantly, what can we do differently to change that outcome?


One of the more pervasive myths in all of fundraising is that somehow, we’d be OK if we could just “find more major donors.” And how do many of us define major donors? You guessed it – $250. If we could somehow find more major donors to give us $250, we could raise the money we need.

By the way – I don’t like $250 being the definition of major donors. $250 is a major GIFT for some, and NOT a major gift for others. But that’s not the point here.

The truth is that we already have major donors – for most of us, it’s not about how much money people have, it’s about making the case for giving it. We don’t need to find more. We need to get better at growing the ones we have.

So how do you do that?

Here is a short list of common barriers that should be relatively easy to break through.

BARRIER: Not asking. We can’t expect people to give $250 ($or $1,000, or $5,000, or ??) if we aren’t asking. (And if we can’t get there asking people who already love us, how do expect to “find” major donors who have never given?)

BREAK-THROUGH: Ask. And ask more than once each year. Ask for renewal. Ask for appeal. Ask in the newsletter and eNews. Ask for monthly donations (at $20 per month!). Ask using emails.


BARRIER: Not asking for $250. In addition to asking more often and in different ways, asking for specific amounts will help people decide to give more.

BREAK-THROUGH: At the very least, ask everyone to give $100. Then ask everyone giving $100 to give $250. Offer a monthly option at $20 per month.


BARRIER: Treating everyone the same after they have given. When someone does make the momentous (for them!) decision to give more than they gave last year, and especially if they consider the amount a “major gift,” they have a right to get noticed. And if they don’t? They won’t be as likely to make that same decision next time.

BREAK-THROUGH: Notice WHAT people give as soon as possible WHEN they give it. Get a special note or email out right away, even before you process their check and send a more standard acknowledgement. Or better yet – CALL. Leave a message telling them that they made your day!


BARRIER: Donor perception that you don’t need the money. Donors support more than one organization and they are bombarded with opportunities to give – especially at this time of year. How would YOU make decisions? How DO you make decisions? Over time, most people end up with an impression of need that is based in part on what they hear back. If they don’t hear from you at all, or if they don’t hear that THEIR gift made a difference, or if they are simply asked to “be generous again,” they will give larger amounts to other organizations that more clearly communicate the need for money.

BREAK-THROUGH: Communicate, communicate, communicate. You’re not desperate, so don’t communicate THAT, but DO communicate about opportunities to make a difference. And first, get that straight in your own head. Why does your organization need money? How much do you need? What difference will someone’s gift make? And after their gift, throughout the next year, communicate, communicate, communicate about the difference their gift DID make. (Not so much about everything the organization did. More about what THEY did. The difference THEIR gift made.)


BARRIER: Not knowing WHY donors are motivated to give. If you send a request for stewardship to someone who really cares about buying land and slowing development, or vice-versa, you won’t get as large a gift.

BREAK-THROUGH: Use your eNews and field events to highlight specific themes. Stewardship, restoration, land acquisition, easements, land, water, specific geographies, specific habitats, and so on. Then monitor who clicks through and who attends. Those are the people most interested. Then commit to matching what you are offering to what they are most interested in. It’s more complicated – it’s more work – but so what? “Finding” major donors is complicated!


Finally, I’ll leave you with this: my opening premise was that everyone can afford $250. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has $250 lying idle in their checking account. But is does mean that finding an extra $20 a month is well within everyone’s capacity.

I also opened up saying that when someone gives you $250, it means something. They care. They’re connected. They appreciate what you are doing. And they want to contribute in a non-trivial, non-token way.

So another “barrier” is that organizational leaders – meaning Board members – are not giving $250. Why should I care, connect, appreciate, and want to contribute in a non-token way, when the Board isn’t doing that much? When the Board is actually setting a much lower bar?

It’s NOT too late to affect the outcome for both THIS year and NEXT year. If you are a Board member who hasn’t given yet, who hasn’t made a $250 commitment to the organization you serve, consider making a PLEDGE, right now, of $20 a month.

You will be glad you did, and you may very well see others following your lead next year.


After all, $250 is a magic number.


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 Vladimir Strebkov courtesy Pixabay



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  • Sonya M
    Posted at 04:56h, 06 December

    I think every board member should be required to read and discuss this article. It is a well-written, thorough, balanced and (even) gentle discussion of an important function in any non-profit organization. It provides valuable perspective on the why and how of development.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:34h, 06 December

      Thank you so much for your comment, Sonya. I like that you have included “and discuss.” It’s so important that we take these topics out of the shadows and discuss them openly.