How to Gracefully Ask for Giving?


How can you inspire philanthropy, solicit without offending donors, and both ignite giving and gracefully close? Two notable solutions emerge from the analysis of 2020 Giving USA results. The first, as with any relationship, is to be transparent and build trust. The second is to recognize that donor care is both respecting the investor and the investment. This is key to retention. This year more than ever, it’s important to accommodate giving preferences and giving levels. As you gracefully ask for giving, keep these best practices in mind.

Individual giving accounts for over 69% of charitable gifts. A substantial percentage comes from a relatively small number of higher capacity givers.  In fact, during campaigns, we encourage our clients not to go public until commitments exceed 60% of the goal amount from board members and key donors. Another significant percentage 20%+ from the next tier of givers with the remainder coming from all other givers:  annual fund, direct mail & online/mobile giving. 

Receiving funding from the highest capacity givers is the single most important part of financing the vision. The initial support of these donors is critical to establishing credibility. You must have a clear vision, compelling case, and urgent mission. Remember, your major donors have needs and interests too. Be aware and listen for those nuances. 

Year-End Giving must be a focus, as approximately 70% of giving is received in the months of November and December. Year-end giving eblasts, direct mail, social media posts, digital fundraising, and calls should be made to galvanize year-end giving among the masses. Do not forget about leveraging Giving Tuesday with a challenge-matching gift from a major donor. Lastly, segment your database into targeted outreach groups like current donors, lapsed donors, and nongivers. 

5 I’s – Major Donor Movement

The major donor process maximizes giving and helps make successful solicitations easier. The process gradually converts unengaged high-capacity families to enthusiastic major donor ambassadors. The 5 I’s are to:  Identify; Inform; Invite; Involve; Invest and Steward. Though the focus is on asking, below are brief descriptions of the 5 I’s.

Identify: This is the initial stage of segmenting and prioritizing top prospects. This requires research, wealth screening and high-capacity peer focus groups. 

Inform: Educate the prospect and vets their alignment with the nonprofit. This stage helps pinpoint the future major donor’s interest. This stage creates and uses the communications resources to ignite interest and connect the individuals to your vision.

Invite:  Engagement must be customized according to the donor’s preferred mode and interests. Listening is key here. Go ahead and schedule that initial discovery meeting. Engage the donor in platforms and events to share the vision and ask open-ended strategic questions.

Involve:  The cultivation process engages the future major donor according to their passions. The donor begins to live the mission and buy into the vision. At this stage, you will identify – 

  • Passions and Interest
  • Barriers to Giving
  • Timeline
  • Readiness
  • Capacity

Invest:  Asking by whom, at what time, and for how much, must be predetermined. However, the development officer and the solicitor must be flexible and attune to donor cues. Closing a major gift is best done by illustrating the impact and creating a sense of urgency. Remember these four “Rights”:

  • Right solicitor
  • Right project
  • Right Time
  • Right amount

Determining how much to ask depends on the major donor’s capacity, giving history, connection to the nonprofit, compelling case, and connection to the solicitor. 

Talking points for the ask:

  • Catch up and appreciation
  • Reiterate purpose of meeting
  • State the case
  • Initially focus on big picture
  • Break down funding options
  • Listen well to nonverbal and verbal cues/Pause often
  • Discuss amount needed to make vision a reality
  • Answer questions
  • Discuss your own commitment (not necessarily the exact amount)
  • Make the Ask
  • Use the gift chart
  • Be silent and wait for response
  • Answer questions
  • Overcome Objections
  • Be specific:  Would you consider a gift to fund the XXX to …. In the amount of XXX…payable over three years


  • Yes:  stop selling, say thank you and have them complete the pledge card
  • No:  ask for clarity; humbly ask, what makes you pause
  • Not that amount:  Perhaps you may consider giving over a longer period of time?  Would you like more time to think about an amount that would be a stretch still not as difficult? 
  • Let me think about it:  Certainly, would you like to connect next week or when should we speak again?

Follow up:

  • Write note mailed/emailed within 24 hours
  • Answer any questions or send additional information
  • Codify commitments 
  • Celebrate payments
  • Identify Pledge Fulfillment Terms
  • If appropriate, schedule and confirm follow up meeting
  • Report results of meeting 

Steward:  Recognizing and showing timely appreciation are essential to converting major donors to ambassadors and leaders. 

Here are the ultimate keys to success: Be yourself. Meditate and pray. Prepare. Make your own commitment. Listen for the unsaid. Be conversational. Remember the impact of having funding.

Let your enthusiasm and passion inspire others! Effectiveness and competence speak loudly to these successful high-capacity future donors. Speaking to their needs and passions will allow those with the gift of wealth to help fulfill their purpose and fund your mission and vision, which is ultimately, the end-goal.

Written By: Carla Maxwell Ray