Fundraising for Nonprofits: Who Dreams Up This Stuff?

Sections of this topic

    Innovative Fundraising for Nonprofits: Who’s Behind the Ideas?

    An e-mail was sent to me recently…
    “I have read that when setting a donation goal for each major donor prospect you should project 10x their largest single gift. Is this a good rule of thumb?”

    This is yet another of the several similar hard-to-believe instances over the years when someone cited such an unfounded and useless “rule.”

    I strive to be respectful of my colleagues, but there are times when I cannot abide by what some of them sometimes say is “Gospel” – what they suggest as a “standard,” or a “rule-of-thumb.” Anyone promoting such a “formula,” clearly has no idea how the process works – prospect identification, assessment, rating for giving potential, and the subsequent asking process.

    No such (10x) arbitrary extrapolation could/should be presented to any donor, be it a granting foundation, a corporation, or an individual. If you apply that, or any other formula, to any donor source’s largest single donation, and you come up with an ask not based on reality – it can only cause distress and dismay from your prospects. They will know that the organization making such an ask did not do its homework.

    When talking about granting foundations or corporations, you simply start by understanding their range of giving, to look, possibly, at their median gift when considering an ask amount. Factor in which types of organizations were favored for their bigger donations, and determine if those organizations have missions and/or constituencies similar to yours.

    What kind of reactions and suggestions do you get from your board members as they look over the list of the foundations and corporations – complete with the names of those entities’ officers and top staff? Can you find any friendship and/or business links they might have with foundation and corporate leaders? Can your board members use those connections to help you to determine the appropriate ask amounts?

    For an individual who has a history of giving to your organization, you’ll know what their largest gift was. Even then, if I was a donor to your NPO and my biggest donation to you in recent years was $1,000, it would make no sense to arbitrarily peg my next ask at $10,000.

    Using the 10x factor, and asking me for that dollar figure would greatly damage your credibility. People in your organization would/should know enough about me to suggest a number based on their perception of my giving capability.

    Suppose I could give much more than $10k? You would miss out. Or, suppose my $1,000 gift was a real and hard stretch for me in the first place? I would be uneasy, maybe even embarrassed, to be asked for such a large donation well out of my range of giving, and then having to refuse.

    It would be better if people from within the organization did do their homework, so they can ask for a more sensible and defensible gift.

    You must do your best to “know” each and every prospect. A made-up multiplying factor, simply will not work and can be damaging to your relationship with your donors and to your fundraising for nonprofit programs.
    Have a question or comment for Tony? He can be reached at There is also a lot of good fundraising information on his website:
    Have you seen The Fundraising Series of ebooks?
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