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Asking for donations: 4 non-negotiable rules to live by

June 24, 2021
Two nonprofit professionals sit beside each other at a desk, typing on a laptop to determine strategies for asking for donations.

For many nonprofit professionals, asking for donations from prospective donors is seen as more challenging than laying the groundwork for donors to decide to give on their own. When your team directly makes solicitations for gifts, it requires a completely different set of skills and donor management software tools.

Whether you’re reaching out to an individual to make your ask or sending out a wide-reaching solicitation, there’s a lot your team needs to be prepared for.

If it’s time to take your nonprofit organization’s solicitation strategy to the next level, check out our top non-negotiable rules for making the big ask. Before your next campaign, make sure your solicitation strategy is in order using these essential tips.

1. Research your donors before making an ask.

There are a lot of potential donors out there who want to give but haven’t been asked in the right way yet. Donors respond best to asks when you shape the solicitations to fit their personal needs and preferences. By knowing who your prospective donors are, you’ll be better equipped to tailor your asks to individual supporters or different donor cohorts.

Whether you’re reaching out to an individual or a group, it’s best to start from a place of knowledge and understanding. Use these strategies to make your asks more personal for donors:

  • Invest in a nonprofit CRM. The best way to learn about your donor community is to track relationships in a nonprofit constituent relationship management (CRM) database. This way, every interaction you have with donors will be accounted for in the system. When the time comes, you can review the prospect’s history and personal details and use that data to shape your ask.
  • Create different donor segments. Create groups of supporters who share similar characteristics, such as giving history, wealth indicators, or preferred giving channels. Then, consider a donor’s particular segment when preparing your ask.
  • Be aware of their giving history. An individual who has never donated before will require a different asking strategy than a donor who regularly provides major gifts. Use your CRM to track giving history for all of your supporters.
  • Offer multiple ways to give. Instead of just asking for a donation, remember to give your supporters flexibility in how they give. The more options supporters have, the more likely it is that they’ll make a contribution of some kind, even if it’s not a direct donation.

The more you know about your donors, the better you’ll be able to shape your solicitations to their needs and preferences. Before you make your next ask, be sure to do ample research.

2. Offer donors different giving levels to choose from.

All nonprofit organizations understand that any gift is a good gift, but your donors may not always see it that way. Your supporters may feel that when they’re asked to provide a specific amount, they can either say yes or turn down the ask entirely.

To prevent this, your nonprofit needs to show donors that they can give at any level that’s comfortable for them. In fact, countering a declined ask with a smaller solicitation amount is one of the best ways your team can secure a gift.

Keep the following strategies in mind as you determine how giving levels should factor into your solicitations:

  • Determine your giving levels. First, your team should set giving levels and determine how many donors you need at each level to reach your goal. If a prospect turns down a gift you planned to solicit from them, counter with a solicitation at the next giving level.
  • Add gift suggestion buttons to online donation forms. If you’re extending a general solicitation, include gift suggestion buttons for each giving level on your donation form. Donors might decide to up their gift to the next giving level or see that you need smaller gifts and decide to give even if they originally weren’t interested.
  • Recognize different donor levels. Some donors mistakenly feel that supporters who give smaller amounts aren’t as important as those who give larger gifts. Be sure to recognize the impact of your donors across the different giving levels by shining the spotlight on standout supporters across the spectrum.
  • Try to convert donors to the next giving level. Your giving levels can also be a guide for how you increase a donor’s average gift size over time. If a person regularly gives at your nonprofit’s mid-range level, for example, your next ask may be successful if you request that they give a one-time major gift.

Knowing what kinds of gifts you’ll need to reach your goals isn’t just important for your nonprofit’s staff—it can help your donors see how their individual contributions can help you reach those goals. Making your giving levels public can be leveraged to secure more revenue over time.

3. Make your solicitations personal.

For your donors, one major factor in their decision to make a donation is whether the solicitation feels personal. Luckily, there are a number of ways your team can add a personal touch when asking for donations, especially when you’ve invested in robust donor database software. The more data you have on hand about donors, the more personalized your asks can be.

Take a look at the following strategies you can leverage to personalize solicitations:

  • Draft custom solicitations in your CRM. When writing formal solicitation letters and emails, your team can use your CRM to create customized templates for different campaigns, donor segments, times of year, and more.
  • Use your donors’ real names and identifiers. Instead of a generic greeting like “Dear Donor,” use your constituents’ preferred names in the salutation. Your CRM can flow identifiers like names and prefixes directly into your solicitation templates to make this process easier.
  • Send direct mail asks. While extending digital solicitations has become the default for many organizations, don’t discount the power of a tangible direct mail ask. Donors respond well to letters like these, and you can customize letter templates in your CRM in much the same way you would with emails.
  • Make solicitation phone calls. Similarly, phone solicitations are a great way to show donors that you value their personal contributions. These solicitations tend to perform better with older constituents who have a higher giving capacity, so remember to consult your donor lists before leveraging this strategy.

When donors feel like your nonprofit cares about their personal contribution, they’ll be more likely to make a gift. Use the information you’ve learned about donors in your nonprofit’s CRM to shape your personalized solicitation strategy.

4. Implement integrated marketing tactics.

Marketing your nonprofit well is an important part of soliciting gifts and can make all the difference when asking for a donation. Think of it this way: when you ask a donor to give, you need to make the case for supporting your organization as well as convince the donor that their gift is absolutely necessary. If either of these factors is unclear to your prospect, they may not decide to give.

The following marketing strategies can help your team inspire donors to give:

  • Brand your donation page. Branding that matches the rest of your website instills trust, makes your donors feel comfortable sharing their payment information, and reminds them where their gift is going.
  • Use peer-to-peer fundraising. Consider asking dedicated supporters to launch peer-to-peer fundraising pages. By marketing a gift to your nonprofit as a donation on their behalf, their friends and family will be more inclined to donate.
  • Track marketing metrics in your CRM. Track metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and impressions to see which marketing content is performing the best. Then, use this data to shape how you share asks.

Marketing your organization well plays a crucial role in making successful solicitations. Don’t forget to leverage your CRM’s data to inform your marketing and asking strategies.

The bottom line

Building a strong solicitation strategy is crucial for nonprofits of any size. With these best practices and the right tools, you can develop effective, personalized asks that result in more donations to fuel your purpose.

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