Don’t Forget to Ask for Money!

Don’t Forget to Ask for Money!


6 June 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’m still reviewing far too many fundraising letters that fail the most basic test of asking for money. They dance around the idea by asking someone to “be generous” or “give a little bit more” or “renew again this year.”

But they don’t actually ask for money.


This is not just more theoretical BS. Leaving the matter completely up to the reader sounds and feel like it’s being considerate. But you are actually making it harder to say yes, because you are asking them to think too much.

Asking me to give $100 is a relatively straightforward decision for me, and depending on how I feel that day, I might say yes. Asking me to consider a gift of $250 is equally easy.

As an aside, let me point out that neither number is out of reach for most people. Asking for $250 will net you fewer responses (and more money), but it won’t be because they can’t afford it. It will be because they don’t see themselves as donors capable of making that great a difference. Helping them see how much difference they can make is YOUR job.


The point is that the difference between $100 and $250 is mostly arbitrary. My decision comes down to “do I care enough about what you are doing to stretch out in this way. And if not, do I want to give something less anyway.”

Simply asking for generosity doesn’t work as well, because it requires a different level of thinking.


Imagine walking into a grocery store to buy a loaf of bread. But instead of having a price on it, you were simply asked to be “fair” at the counter. What do you think would happen? Some would do the mental work necessary to find a price they felt was fair and pay that. Some would pay what they paid last time – in fact what they have paid every time for the past 20 years. And some would pay the least amount they felt they could get away with.

Some might even pay more than last time, but those people would be considered “crazy” by everyone else.

But everyone would have to think about it in a different way. Actually buying the bread would become much more of a mental exercise – one that is actually much more difficult. Some might even decide to go to a different store that doesn’t ask them to work that hard.


In sales, the asking amount is called the “anchor.” The buyer accepts what is being asked for the item and makes a decision based on how much they want that item for that price. If it’s acceptable to bargain, the bargaining dances around the anchor.

Fundraising works the same way, except that both parties understand that it’s not as “price” as much as a “suggested donation.” If I don’t feel like giving $250, I am free to give $100 instead. But my decision is still relative to the “anchor.”

Asking for a specific amount of money is actually doing a favor to your donors. It makes the giving decision easier for them.

To be sure, some people will grumble about “you guys” always asking for more every year. (So does the bread seller!) But that shouldn’t be a problem. Someone will grumble about it regardless of what you ask for. The objective here is to deepen our relationships with donors and raise more money. Not to avoid grumbling.


The problem, of course, is that if you’re specific in your asking, you won’t be able to send the same letter to everyone. Why send a letter asking for $100 to people who gave $250 last year? Actually doing the mailing won’t be as easy for you, because it requires you to prepare and send four or five slighjtly different letters to different parts of your mailing list.

But think about that: Seen one way, the extra effort will be worth it because you will raise more money. Seen another way, NOT asking for money will actually cost you money (in lost revenue). How much money is it worth for the convenience of sending the same letter to everyone?


The bottom line is that you will raise some money from letters that simply ask for generosity. But in general, you will raise more money by asking for a specific amount.


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 Ray Hennessy courtesy

Share this!
1 Comment
  • Jim Bonesteel
    Posted at 11:37h, 06 June

    Hi David, Yet another great post. (I do read every week but rarely comment).

    We do what you are suggesting but we don’t send 3 or 4 different versions of the letter, we actually mail merge the ask amount for each donor into the letter and the reply card. We have the ask amount, “Would you consider giving $250 this year?”, or choose “$100 what you gave last year”, or “$____ another amount”. For another donor it might be $95 and $35. For another it might be $1,000 and $500. We have formulas to figure out the ask amount for each person. The extra effort comes in when we go over the list and tweak it here and there based on what we know about each donor and their history.