The Integrated Ask

I started my fundraising career after years of being in sales.  Mostly commission-based sales.  It had been beaten into me that the first cardinal sin was to leave money on the table.  So I was confused when I heard fundraising colleagues checking to make sure that their major donor prospects were not being asked for an annual gift. Well, not at first—I assumed they wanted to be the point of contact and so they would ask for the annual gift at the same time as they would be talking about the major gift opportunities.  But no—they simply did not want their major donors to be “bothered” with annual giving.

I didn’t know from “the integrated ask” then.  In fact, that’s not a term I had actually heard until fairly recently.  In sales we called it things like, “The Total Solution.”  What you call it, of course, is not nearly as important as what you do.  And what you do is make sure that there is real clarity about the support you are requesting.

I would, in fact, start the cultivation process for a major gift by acknowledging the annual support the donor gives—and enforcing how important that gift is to the organization.  Then I would be very clear that I am hoping he or she (or they) will begin considering an additional gift for….

On a smaller scale, when you are working to sell tables or tickets for your gala, you should be clear (at least to your Board members) that this is in addition and not instead of, their annual contribution.

Oftentimes, organizations have several campaigns going at once:  Annual, capital, endowment, etc.  Many of the prospects may have only one interest, but our job as development professional, is to ensure that they know about all the opportunities you have for them.  Giving shouldn’t be an either-or proposition.

Think about it another way—from a purely economic stance.

Joe and Cathy have been making regular annual gifts to your organization.  Let’s say that gift is $5,000. You rely on their gift; it helps with critical operating expenses.  Now you’ve asked them for a $50,000 gift for the building fund.  This gift is going to be given over ten year--$10,000 a year.  You must make sure that Joe and Cathy understand that this means that for the next five years, they will be making gifts equaling $15,000--$10,000 for the capital gift, and $5,000 for their regular annual gift.

If they don’t do this—if they want their annual gift to come “out of” their major gift—they are only making a $25,000 major gift.  Not a gift you would turn down, but it is not the gift you asked for.

My clients know that I am always talking about “and” gifts.  It’s human nature to always try to give the least—but it is also human nature to get real joy when you give the most.  You have the opportunity to give your donors true joy, but only if you are very clear and upfront about the gift you are requesting and what it includes.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more engaged boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.