Guidelines for Determining the Right Ask Amount for Major Gifts

The definition of a major gift is different from organization to organization — a small nonprofit may consider anything over $1,000 a major gift, while larger nonprofits deem donations over $75,000 as major gifts. While the values vary, one thing is for certain: Major gifts make up the largest donations a nonprofit receives.

Whether part of a capital campaign or annual fund, major gifts can be game-changers that help nonprofits fulfill their missions, solve a problem or bring about change in their communities. So, how do you determine the perfect ask amount for a major gift?

If it’s the first ask for a major gift, experts advise anywhere between two and 10 times the donor’s largest annual gift amount. For capital campaigns, that range moves to five to 10 percent. That’s a wide range, so it’s important to consider a donor’s ability and propensity to give.

Questions to help assess the donor’s capacity and willingness to give

  • Does the prospect own his/her own business and, if so, how large is it? (Oftentimes you can find this out by searching online.)
  • What does the donor do for a living, and what does their spouse (if applicable) do? ( is a good place to review salary ranges based on title and place of employment.)
  • What is the prospect’s home worth? (Searching online for this information can really benefit your organization — donors who own more than $2 million in real estate are 17 times more likely to give philanthropically than those who do not.)
  • What other organizations does the donor support and how much do they give?
  • What is the donor’s current family situation (e.g., ill spouse, children in private school or college, etc.) and how could that impact their capacity to give?
  • How does the donor like to spend their leisure time (e.g., second home, annual trips abroad, etc.)?
  • Who do you know who might know the donor and be willing to speak with you confidentially?
  • Is there a specific organizational need or opportunity that might speak to the donor’s interests?
  • How much and how often has the prospect donated to you in the past? (Someone who has made sizable past donations will be more inclined to donate in the future.)
  • Does the donor have a connection to your organization? (Donors who are engaged with your mission and have a clear understanding of how their gift will make a difference are more likely to give.)

The 20% rule

Another option experts recommend when asking for the first major gift is to multiply the largest annual gift by five, and then add or subtract approximately 20% based on the answers to the lifestyle questions noted above. For example, if they have children in college, subtract 20%. If they just sold their business (or are about to) raise the ask by 20%.

It’s always better to aim higher rather than lower. Donors are rarely offended by ask amounts and are likely to counter your request with information that will help you both settle on the right numbers. In the end, there is no exact science for determining the right gift amount. That’s why continuous stewardship of donors and maintaining detailed records is important for any organization.

Questions about major gift fundraising?

We are proud to have helped some amazing organizations like the West Side Catholic Center and The Holden Arboretum with successful fundraising campaigns — and we can help you too! Schedule a complementary 30-minute call with one of our fundraising experts to learn how your organization can unlock its true fundraising potential.

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