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They're right. Solicitors shouldn't try to tell prospects what to give, as this will engender a No matter what sources you are approaching, you need to be ready with a suggested giving amount in line with what each prospective donor is capable of giving great deal of resistance. Yet setting a personal goal for all prospective individual donors, letting prospects know what their goal is, and helping them see where and how it fits under the umbrella of the campaign goal is probably the most important element of a campaign. No matter what sources you are approaching, you need to be ready with a suggested giving amount in line with what each prospective donor is capable of giving. Dealing with foundations, corporations, and government funders in this manner is easy. In fact, it is usually required. Grant application forms have a blank space where you fill in the amount requested. But when it comes to individual donors, we seem to think it is a different kettle of fish. It isn't.

Remember, you aren't telling, you're suggesting! No one wants to be told what to give to any fund-raising campaign, but most prospects will welcome a suggestion of what would be appropriate. People nearly always want to know what the "price" of something is. It is rare that anyone decides to purchase an item without first looking at the price tag. The same is true when it comes to making a philanthropic donation. People want to know how much the soliciting organization needs, and fundraisers should always have a ready answer.

That answer should be a specific dollar amount determined by a rating and evaluating process, but far too often it is:

-- Give what you can: Requesting that multimillionaires give what they can is silly. You seldom are likely to be asking any one person for resources of that magnitude.

-- Give what you are comfortable with: People can be comfortable with giving $10 when you need $100 and they could give that and more.

-- We would appreciate a gift in the range of _____ to _______: Asking for a gift in the range of $100 to $1,000 tells the prospect you haven't determined what your real needs are.

You should always suggest a specific number, and that suggestion must be presented in a way that is neither annoying nor demanding. There is only one person who can and will decide the size of a gift--the individual making that gift. However, most prospects will welcome and consider a request made in the following manner:

We are going to the community to raise $250,000 that we plan to place in a permanent endowment fund to provide income in perpetuity, assuring that we will continue to meet our financial needs; be able to maintain, improve, and enhance our current programs and services; and have the opportunity to implement new ones to meet the growing needs of our community.

To help us meet our campaign goal, we hope that you will consider making a gift of $10,000. We are suggesting this amount because, as you can appreciate, a campaign of this magnitude and limited time frame requires a certain number of leadership gifts at significant dollar levels. While this suggested amount was developed with that premise in mind, we recognize and understand that in the final analysis you will consider what is right for you. Of course, whatever you give will be deeply appreciated.

I have used this suggested gift statement, with obvious modification, in numerous campaigns, and it has worked well. It succeeds because it approaches prospects as each of us would want to be approached-thoughtfully, courteously, and enthusiastically.

Remember, chances are that a careful and thoughtful prospect research process will result in your asking for an amount heard many times before by the prospect. Your request is not going to be shocking or offensive. Even if it is high, when presented respectfully and politely, you are likely to be told, "Gee, if I really had that kind of money, I would be glad to give it to you." At that point the prospect has said he will give. Now all remains is for him to decide how much, and you have started his thinking at a far higher level than a low-ball request would have prompted.

Even if an individual has refused to give to a category of request in the past, he or she still might be worth a try, particularly if the circumstances are unusual. People do change their minds. However, it is generally wise not to solicit individuals who have made it clear they will not give either to the type of campaign being conducted or its underlying purpose.

Those are my views on the subject. What are yours? I welcome your comments and suggestions.

This article is an excerpt from a longer article, Rating and Evaluating Prospects: Whom Do You Ask For How Much. To read the full length article go to Tony's site.

Tony Poderis writes about fund development based on his more than 30 years experience. His career includes 20 years as Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra, and more than 10 years  as a consuitant to both large and small organizations.  For more of his clear and well grounded articles, visit his website at