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  • Writer's picturelauramccartytufano

What If I Ask for Too Much Money?

A capital campaign volunteer recently shared a worry with me: What if I ask for too much? Volunteers often have anxiety when talking about money, especially about the kind of stretch gifts we ask for in a capital campaign.


My response to the volunteer: If you are inviting the prospective donor to join you in investing in a project that is important to both you and them, a project that is worth it, they won't be offended. If you are using guilt, shame, or obligation in your messaging, or referencing how much money you think they have and implying they’d be stingy not to give at the level you’ve asked... yeah, they might be offended.


Assuming I’d trained my volunteer to approach large gifts in the former fashion, and not the latter, we role-played a couple of scenarios where a prospect reacts negatively to his ask amount.


The “no way” prospect


Volunteer: …and because I know you care deeply about these things, I’m inviting you to be a lead donor in this campaign with a gift of $X.


Prospect: I do care about the project, but there is absolutely no way I could ever make a gift of that size.


Volunteer: What would be a more comfortable number for you?


When you can see that the donor is truly invested in the project, but truly can’t give at the level you’ve asked, you can open the door to a number that works for them.


The “I wish I could” prospect


Volunteer: …and because I know you care deeply about these things, I’m inviting you to be a lead donor in this campaign with a gift of $X.


Prospect: I do care so deeply about this project! I really wish I could give that lead gift, but I’m worried about making sure I pay for my grandchildren’s college tuition (or insert other financial concern here).


Volunteer: Is there a creative way to get to this amount?


When you can see that the donor is truly invested in the project, and would clearly like to be the leader you’ve asked them to be, but they’re nervous about the gift size, ask if there’s a way to structure the gift to get them to the amount you’ve asked. Could they pledge now and spread their payments out over three years? Have they considered using a qualified charitable distribution from their IRA (this may even help them save on their taxes!). Could they give a gift of appreciated stock?


The “what on earth gave you that idea?” prospect


Volunteer: …and because I know you care deeply about these things, I’m inviting you to be a lead donor in this campaign with a gift of $X.


Prospect: Ha! What made you think I would even consider a gift like that?


Volunteer: I suggested that amount because you've been such a luminary in this community, and I thought of you first when I thought of people who would want to see this project come to fruition for the betterment of our community.


Some of the biggest fears a volunteer has are that the prospect will be angry or will laugh at their ask. And that is a possible outcome. Sometimes the hunch or even the prospect research used to come to an ask amount is wrong. You do have to have tough skin in this game. There will always be people who respond less favorably than we hope. No campaign has a 100% success rate with every single ask. We do the best we can, we respond gracefully when a prospect declines to give, and we move to the next prospect.


In the meantime, be bold, and make big asks! Your project is worth it!

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