How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount

Man holding a calculator.

We want to help you create powerful fundraising offers.

For a refresher, here’s my definition of an offer: the main thing that you say will happen when the person gives a gift.

Quick Refresher

The most successful fundraising offers tend to have 4 elements:

  1. A solvable problem that’s easy to understand
  2. A solution to that problem that’s easy to understand
  3. The cost of the solution seems like a good deal
  4. There’s urgency to solve the problem NOW

Today, we’re going to break down element #3, ‘the cost of the solution.’

The Cost of the Solution Seems Like a Good Deal

There are a three main ideas here…

The Cost

When you’re able to tell donors exactly how much it costs for them to make a meaningful difference, donors are more likely to give.

Most nonprofits don’t do this. They say, “Here’s a bunch of stuff we do, please help us today with a gift.”

But in my experience (and the experience of all my mentors), you’ll raise more money if you find/come up with something specific to promise a donor that she’ll help do, and if that something specific has a price.

(Of course, the price for that thing has to be the right size for the donor. But we’ll talk about that below.)

Why is so helpful for donors when you promise that a specific thing will happen if a donor gives a specific amount? Because it shows them how much they need to give for their gift to make a meaningful difference.

To be clear, there are some donors out there who will give just because you work on a cause or people group that they care about. And when you remind them that you’re doing all of that work, some of those donors will give gifts.

But we’ve helped hundreds of organizations start raising more immediately when we help them identify a specific, meaningful part of their process that they can ask their donors to fund.

And then those organizations raise even more money when that specific, meaningful thing has a specific cost.

Because donors love to know what their impact will be. So by being specific about what their impact will be, and how much it will cost, you help your donors be more likely to donate to your organization.

Of The Solution

This might seem obvious, but let’s cover it just in case. The cost that you mention above needs to be for the exact solution in your offer.

  • If you’re talking about feeding a person, the cost needs to be for a meal.
  • If you’re talking about advocating, the cost needs to be for some meaningful part of advocating.

This often goes sideways when organizations follow this tactic almost to the very end… but not quite. For instance, an advocacy group will talk about how “$50 trains 50 volunteers to advocate effectively for the cause.” That’s a great offer. But then the letter will end with, “Please donate $50 to help us do all the things that we do.”

No. Stay on target. End the letter with, “Please donate $50 to train 50 volunteers today!” Then the reply card should say something like, “Here’s my gift to train volunteers.”

Seems Like a Good Deal

Donors are generous, compassionate, value-conscious humans.

Donors love it when they feel like they are “getting a good deal” on their donation.

This is why matching grants work so well! To a donor, it feels like she gets to have twice the impact for what she normally gives. To her, it feels like her impact has gone on sale for 50% off.

Because of donors’ desire to get a good deal, offers tend to work better when the cost of the solution seems like a good deal. Let’s look at some offers we’ve had tremendous success with:

“$1.92 to feed a homeless person Thanksgiving dinner” seems like a good deal.
“$300 to cure a person of a major disease” seems like a good deal.
“$10,000 to send an underprivileged girl to an Ivy League college for a year” seems like a good deal
“$50 to join my neighbors in the fight against cancer” seems like a good deal.
“Your impact will be DOUBLED by matching funds” seems like a good deal.

As you create your own offers, look for a couple of things to help show donors how they are getting a good deal:

  • Small parts of big processes that make a big difference. Things like “the cost of airfare to help an adoptive family meet their new child” or “the cost of internet streaming services so that people around the world can watch our sermons.” See how those examples are small parts of big processes – but they seem to have an outsized impact?
  • Anything that has a multiplier. If you use volunteer hours or grants of any kind to help a process or part of a process, that means the cost of that process is lower than it would normally be. For one organization, we helped them see that they were providing over $200-worth of service to local families for just $50. So now their main offer is, “Just $50 provides over $200 worth of help to a local family to stop domestic violence.”

And any time you can get matching funds, get them. You can use them far more than you think before your donors will tire of them. FAR more.

In a nutshell: any time you can convey to donors that “their gift goes farther/has more impact than normal,” you’ve increased your chances of getting a gift. And of getting a larger gift. For instance, matching funds increase both the average number of people who respond AND the size of their average gift!

Other Helpful Advice

Here’s a handful of helpful tips we’ve picked up over the years:

  • The offer amount may be different than how much you ask a donor to give. For instance, it may cost $12 to do something meaningful. Your letter or email would repeat the $12 figure often and talk about how powerful it is. Then you’d ask the donor to give you $36 to help 3 people, or $72 to help 6 people, etc.
  • In your mass donor fundraising, the cost of the offer will be more successful if it is less than $50. I’ve gone as low as 44 cents. What you’re looking for is a cost/amount that any of your donors can easily say, “Yes, I can do that.”
  • Don’t worry if your offer amount is low. People tend to give at the amounts they give at. In other words, if you have a donor who usually gives you about $50, when presented with an offer of $10 she’ll either give you $50 or $60. But she won’t give you $10.
  • For major donors, you can create higher-cost offers. For instance, your mass donor offer might be “$50 trains 50 volunteers” while your major donor offer for the same program might be, “$5,000 pays for our volunteer center for the year” Same program, different offer and different price point.

These Funds Can Be Undesignated!

Finally, you might be wondering how you can get specific on the cost of doing one part of what you do AND have the funds be undesignated so that you can use them anywhere you. Go here to download our whitepaper on this very thing!

But Wait, There’s More!

This post was originally part of a longer series about fundraising offers. The next one in the series will show you the final of the four elements: how giving donors reasons to give NOW will dramatically increase the number of gifts you receive.

And remember: if all of this were easy, you and everybody else would be raising piles of money. It takes a lot of thought to create and refine a good offer.

But the payoff is huge – for your organization, your beneficiaries, and for you!

Read the whole original series:

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers

Offers are Twice as Important as Delivery

Offers

In your mass donor fundraising, how you deliver your fundraising offer is half as important as what your fundraising offer is.

How do we know that those things are about half as important? Here’s how…

The 40 / 40 / 20 Rule

You may have heard about the 40-40-20 rule. It’s one of the most valuable pieces of information we can provide you:

  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is who you are talking to.

    For instance, if you’re talking to major donors, you can expect to raise more money than if you’re talking to non-donors.
  • 40% of the success of any fundraising is the Offer.

    The “offer” of any fundraising piece (letter, email, newsletter, etc.) is what you promise will happen when a donor gives a gift. The better your offer, the more money you’ll raise.
  • 20% of the success of any fundraising is the “creative” – how you deliver your offer.

    This is the writing style, whether you’re donor-centric or not, the typeface you use, the header on your email, etc.

Here’s What You Should Do

Any time you’re creating a fundraising piece that’s going to all your donors, be more concerned with what your offer is than with how the piece delivers the offer.

In other words, spend more time thinking about how you’re going to describe what will happen when a donor gives a gift. Spend less time trying to sound like your Executive Director, or with getting your grammar just right.

Because most organizations spend most of their time on how they write. On “getting their voice right.” Or on using brand colors. But, those things matter only half as much as what you promise will happen when your donor gives a gift.

Spend more time on the portion of your communications that makes the most difference. Spend less time on the portion of your communications that makes the least difference.


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

How Smart Organizations Raise More Money

Money

This is simple to explain, but it takes a bit of work to do. But here’s how smart organizations raise more money:

  • They customize the Ask Amounts for each and every donor.
  • The customized Ask Amounts for each donor are in increments of the Offer Amount.

Here’s what that looks like. Say you had recently given a donation of $100 to an organization. And today’s letter featured an offer of “$35 will train one volunteer to advocate for our cause.” The Ask Amounts should look something like:

  • $105 to train 3 advocates
  • $140 to train 4 advocates
  • $210 to train 6 advocates
  • $______ to train as many advocates as possible

There’s a lot going on in that example that’s helpful.

  • First, the Ask Amounts are all in $35 increments – increments of the Offer Amount. Because remember, your whole letter (or email, or newsletter, or event) should be about the Offer. So, it will make more sense to your donor if your reply card has amounts that are based on the Offer you are writing them about.
  • Second, the beginning Ask Amount is at or above the amount of your last gift. This is key to helping donors give as much they gave last time… or more!
  • Third, the description text (“…to train 3 advocates”) describes how many of the outcomes your gift will fund. This helps donors know exactly how much good their gift will do. It’s a proven tactic.

To do this, most smaller organizations use software to calculate the Ask Amounts and Outcome Amounts (“3 advocates”) for each donor. They’ll then merge in those amounts onto the reply card.

This takes real work, but it’s a tested, proven tactic to raise more money.

The Benefits to You

When your Offer Amount is low, and your Ask Amounts are at or above how much your donor gave last time, two positive things happen:

  • More people respond because your barrier of entry is so low. In other words, more people respond because it costs so little for them to make a meaningful difference.
  • You’ll raise more money because donor’s gifts will usually be at or above what they gave last time.

Increase the # of people who respond
+ Gifts at the same size or larger       _
= More money for your cause!


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

Is Your Fundraising Offer a Good Deal?

Offer

Donors are generous, compassionate, value-conscious people.

Donors love it when they feel like they are “getting a good deal” on their donation.

This is why matching grants work so well! To a donor, it feels like she gets to have twice the impact for what she normally gives. To her, it feels like her impact has gone on sale for 50% off.

Because of donors’ desire to get a good deal, offers tend to work better when the cost of the solution seems like a good deal. Let’s look at some offers we’ve had tremendous success with:

  • “$1.92 to feed a homeless person Thanksgiving dinner” seems like a good deal.
  • “$300 to cure a person of a major disease” seems like a good deal.
  • “$10,000 to send an underprivileged girl to an Ivy League college for a year” seems like a good deal.
  • “$50 to join my neighbors in the fight against cancer” seems like a good deal.
  • “Your impact will be DOUBLED by matching funds” seems like a good deal.

As you create your own offers, look for a couple of things to help show donors how they’re getting a good deal:

  • Small parts of big processes that make a big difference. Things like “the cost of airfare to help an adoptive family meet their new child” or “the cost of internet streaming services so that people around the world can watch our sermons.” See how those examples are small parts of big processes – but they seem to have an outsized impact?
  • Anything that has a multiplier. If you use volunteer hours or grants of any kind to help a process or part of a process, that means the cost of that process is lower than it would normally be. For one organization, we helped them see that they were providing over $200-worth of service to local families for just $50. So, now their main offer is, “Just $50 provides over $200 worth of help to a local family to stop domestic violence.”

And any time you can get matching funds, get them. You can use them far more than you think before your donors will tire of them. FAR more.

In a nutshell: any time you can convey to donors that “their gift goes farther/has more impact than normal,” you’ve increased your chances of getting a gift. And of getting a larger gift. Matching funds are proven to increase both the average number of people who respond AND the size of their average gift!


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

Why Good Fundraising Offers Work

Why it Works

A good offer serves donors (and potential donors) by helping them understand, quickly, the difference they can make with a gift.

Always remember: the donors who are reading your appeal letters and emails are busy. They are sorting the mail or sorting email. Shoot, it’s even possible they are driving their car.

Your donor is scanning (not reading) your fundraising letter, wondering if your letter is about something she’d like to do today.

She doesn’t have time (or interest) for an organization that doesn’t describe what her gift will accomplish. Or worse, it describes what her gift will do in conceptual terms like “deliver hope” when she doesn’t know exactly what that means.

You know what donors like? Organizations that present understandable problems to her, in ways that are easy to understand. So that in just a few seconds, she can understand what the problem is and know how she can make a meaningful difference with a gift.

Reasons a Good Offer Works So Well

There are four main reasons a good offer works so well …

  1. A good offer is easier to communicate quickly. A good offer can usually be summarized in a sentence or two. That clarity and brevity allows donors to know right away if they should keep reading or not. Donors love that.
  2. A good offer requires the donor to understand less about your organization. Most nonprofits work under the incorrect assumption that a donor “must know all about all the things we do, and that we are good at it” before the donor can be asked to give a gift.
  3. A good offer is more emotionally powerful. Because your letter (or email or event or whatever) is not having to educate your donor about all the things you do, you can spend more time talking about the people or cause in need, the emotions of the beneficiaries, the emotion of the donor, etc.
  4. A good offer tends to be specific. Good offers have exact dollar amounts, so that all donors can see what it costs to make a meaningful difference. And they tend to include specific benefits or services that are provided for that amount. So rather than having to understand all of your programs and mission, the donor just needs to understand one small thing that makes a difference.

Notice how all of those things “lighten the load” on your donors? Notice how a good offer makes it easier for them to understand what their gift will do? And how you’ll be able to tap into their emotions – which are the drivers of all giving.


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers.” Download it for free, here.

What actually is a Fundraising Offer?

Offer

The fundraising offer is often the least understood, but most effective way nonprofits (especially smaller nonprofits) can start raising more money immediately.

A strong offer helps your organization:

  • Raise more money with each piece of fundraising
  • Be more memorable to your donors
  • Build stronger relationships with your donors

A fundraising offer is the main thing a fundraising piece says will happen when the person gives a gift.

Here are some examples of offers, and while you might notice that some are better than others, we’ll talk later about what makes an offer effective or not. For now, we’re just working on identifying offers and understanding what they are.

We’ve underlined the “main thing that will happen” that each letter / email / newsletter emphasized:

  • “Will you join us as we fight poverty”
  • “Will you help these overcoming women in their journey
  • $1.92 will provide a Thanksgiving meal
  • “Please partner with us as we end generational homelessness”
  • “For every $250 you donate, one child will attend camp this summer
  • “Your gifts support the Harmony Experience for all”
  • “Your gift supports the arts in our community”

As you can see, every piece of fundraising communication has an offer.

Some offers are more powerful than others.

Some offers work for almost all organizations (e.g., year-end). Some offers only work for some organizations at very specific times of the year (e.g., opening night at the opera). Some offers are so powerful they can create billion-dollar organizations (e.g., “child sponsorship”).

Your job as a fundraiser is to find the most effective offers for your organization.


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Fundraising Offers: What they are, how they work, how to make a great one.” Download it for free, here.

Donors Love Directness

Be More Direct

Fundraisers – and often the Executive Director – are afraid that boldly asking for a gift will “turn people off” or “make us look desperate” or “make us look like we don’t manage money well.”

Let me be blunt: those fears are unfounded. When organizations make bold Asks to send in a gift today, they raise more money and keep their donors for longer.

There’s a reason pro fundraisers write appeals that say things like, “Please, while you’re holding this letter, take out your checkbook and send in a gift today. You’ll love helping a person…” Pro fundraisers write that way because it works so much better.

Most donors are moving fast. While reading your appeal, they aren’t taking the time to think about whether your organization is well-run, or whether you manage money well or not.

Most of your donors are just wondering if someone or some thing they care about is in danger, and if their help is needed. And if your donor’s help is really needed, your donor assumes you’ll ask them directly and clearly.

Because if you say things like “please support our mission…” or “will you please partner with us today…” – does that sound like there’s an urgent need and that the donor’s gift will address it? No. It doesn’t. Sounds like things are probably going just fine. And when things sound like they are going fine, fewer donors give.

Donors Love Directness

Remember, most of your donors are looking at your fundraising appeals while they are doing other things: getting ready for dinner, processing their mail, etc. They are moving FAST, and they usually only give your letter or email a few seconds of attention.

Note: remember, we’re talking about communications to all your donors. Your emails, your letters, your website, etc. This can absolutely be different when you are talking to your Board, or some major donors who have deep relationships with your organization. But usually those people make up less than 5% of the people who will be reading your fundraising materials.

Ask any pro fundraiser who has a lot of experience with fundraising to tens and hundreds of thousands of people at a time: your ability to make it easy for your reader to know exactly what you want them to do, and know what their gift will do, is incredibly important.

You tend to get more of what you ask for. If you ask for ‘consideration,’ you’ll get more of it. If you ask for ‘support,’ you’ll get more of it (but who knows what their support will look like). And if you ask for a gift today, you’ll get more gifts today.

Don’t Accidentally Hide the Need

By not asking boldly and directly, many nonprofits accidentally hide the need from their donors.

Too many organizations only share stories of people who have already been helped. And they then don’t ask clearly for gifts. Over time, this gives donors the impression that most everyone is being helped, but that the organization kind of always needs money. That’s not the impression an organization wants its donors to have!

True story: after Better Fundraising starts working with organizations, many of them receive the following comment with the first big influx of gifts: “I had no idea so many people needed help, and that you could use more money. I’m happy to help!!” Their note is usually accompanied by a larger than normal gift.

Remember, there are other nonprofits currently asking your donors for gifts. It’s happening in their inbox and mailbox of your donors today. So I urge you to Ask with boldness and directness for your donors to send you gifts! You’ll raise more money, you’ll present a truer picture of the need your organization exists to meet, and your donors will love your clarity and directness!


This post is excerpted from the Better Fundraising e-book “Asks that Make Your Donor Take Action.” Download it for free, here.

Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well

Reading Mail

Today I want to talk about Offers. What’s an Offer? The main thing a fundraising piece says will happen when the person gives a gift.

A Good Offer Serves Your Donors

A good offer serves donors (and potential donors) by helping them understand, quickly, the difference they can make with a gift.

Always remember: the donors who are reading your mail and email are busy. They are sorting the mail or sorting email. Shoot, it’s even possible they are driving their car.

Your donor is scanning (not reading) your fundraising letter, wondering if your letter is about something she’d like to do today.

She doesn’t have time (or interest) for an organization that doesn’t describe what her gift will accomplish. Or worse, it describes what her gift will do in conceptual terms like “deliver hope” when she doesn’t know exactly what that means.

You know what she likes? Organizations that present understandable problems to her, in ways that are easy to understand. So that in just a few seconds, she can understand what the problem is and know how she can make a meaningful difference with a gift.

Reasons a Good Offer Works So Well

There are four main reasons a good offer work so well…

  1. A good offer is easier to communicate quickly. A good offer can usually be summarized in a sentence or two. That clarity and brevity allows donors to know right away if they should keep reading or not. Donors love that.
  2. A good offer requires the donor to understand less about your organization. Most nonprofits work under the assumption that a donor “must know all about all the things we do, and that we are good at it” before the donor can be asked to give a gift. For your mass donor communications, this could not be further from the truth.
  3. A good offer is more emotionally powerful. Because your letter (or email or event or whatever) is not having to educate your donor about all the things you do, you can spend more time talking about the people or cause in need, the emotions of the beneficiaries, the emotion of the donor, etc.
  4. A good offer tends to be specific. Good offers tend to have exact dollar amounts, so that all donors can see what it costs to make a meaningful difference. And they tend to include specific benefits or services that are provided for that amount. So rather than having to understand all of your programs and mission, the donor just needs to understand one small thing that makes a difference. Donors love that (even though experts don’t.)

Notice how all of those things “lighten the load” on your donors? Notice how a good offer makes it easier for them to understand what their gift will do? And how you’ll be able to tap into their emotions – which are the drivers of all giving?

So Much More to Say…

There’s so much more to say about Offers that we’ve put together an entire e-Book on the subject. Click here to download it for free – and keep telling donors how they can change the world!

How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts

Plate of money.

Here’s a question I get every time an organization is thinking about using a good fundraising offer with a low price point:

  • “OK, so our offer is $7. Are we going to get a ton of $7 gifts? Aren’t we going to raise less money this way because our donors are going to give less?”

The short answer is:

  • Not if your Ask Amounts for each donor are at or above what that donor gave last time.

Let me explain…

Offer Amount vs. Ask Amount

There’s a difference between your Offer Amount and your Ask Amounts.

Your Offer Amount is the cost of your offer – the cost to do the thing you promise will happen if a donor gives a gift. (We’ve talked about how those amounts should usually be less than $50.)

Your Ask Amounts are the amounts you list for your donor to give on your reply card. They often look something like this:

  • [ ] $50
    [ ] $100
    [ ] $150
    [ ] $_______

Those are your Ask Amounts. (This is also often called “gift ask string” or “gift ask array” but we’re going to refer to them as Ask Amounts for clarity’s sake.)

Think of it this way:

  • Your Offer Amount is how much it costs for the donor to do one meaningful thing.
  • Your Ask Amounts are how much you’d like the donor to give today.

Make sense? Still with me?

How Smart Organizations Raise More Money

This is simple to explain, but it takes a bit of work to do. But here’s what the smart organizations do:

  • They customize the Ask Amounts for each and every donor.
  • The customized Ask Amounts for each donor are in increments of the Offer Amount.

Here’s what that looks like. Say I had recently given a donation of $100 to an organization. And they were writing me with an offer of “$35 will train one volunteer to advocate for our cause.” My Ask Amounts would look something like:

  • [ ] $105 to train 3 advocates
    [ ] $140 to train 4 advocates
    [ ] $210 to train 6 advocates
    [ ] $______ to train as many advocates as possible

There’s a lot going on in that example that’s helpful.

  • First, the Ask Amounts are all in $35 increments – increments of the Offer Amount. Because remember, your whole letter (or email, or newsletter, or event) should be about the Offer. So it will make more sense to your donor if your reply card has amounts that are based on the offer you are writing them about.
  • Second, the beginning Ask Amount is at or above how much I gave last time. This is key to helping donors give how much they gave last time… or more!
  • Third, the description text (“…to train 3 advocates”) describes how many of the outcomes my gift will fund. This helps donors know exactly how much good their gift will do. It’s a proven tactic.

To do this, most smaller organizations use Excel to calculate the Ask Amounts and Outcome Amounts (“3 advocates”) for each donor. Then they merge in those amounts onto the reply card.

This takes real work. It’s worth it.

The Benefits to You

When your Offer Amount is low, and your Ask Amounts are at or above how much your donor gave last time, two positive things happen:

  • More people respond because your barrier of entry is so low. In other words, more people respond because it costs so little for them to make a meaningful difference.
  • You’ll raise more money because donor’s gifts will usually be at or above what they gave last time.

Increasing the number of people who respond + keeping their gifts at the same size or larger = more money for your cause!

This post was originally published on May 7, 2019 as part of a series on creating successful offers. Use the links below to read the entire series, or click here to download the e-book we created from these posts.

  1. How to Create a Great Fundraising Offer: What’s an Offer?
  2. Why a Good Fundraising Offer Works So Well
  3. The Ingredients in Successful Offers
  4. How to Describe the “Solution” Your Organization Provides
  5. How to Raise More Money by Asking for the Right Amount
  6. How and Why to Give Your Donors a Reason to Give Today
  7. What About Internal Experts Who Don’t Like Fundraising Offers?
  8. How to Make Sure a Low-Priced Offer Does NOT Produce Small Gifts
  9. Half As Important
  10. Offers for Major Donors
  11. Summarizing and Closing This Chapter on Fundraising Offers