Big Thoughts Lead to Big Actions

At this time of year, I spend a lot of my time training callers for the end of the year appeal. That means I get to see behind the scenes of a lot of organizations and how they view annual fund. It’s not a pretty sight. What I see in too many organizations is an institutional distain of their donors. A belief that they “won’t” or they “can’t” support the organization at anything above a minimal gift. And just as with a “large” gift, amount depends on your constituency, don’t underestimate what your prospects and donors can and would do.

A recent study confirmed that households with incomes in the $50,000 to $75,000 range give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more. That equates to a median of 4.7 percent given to charity. So why are we asking our donors for $25 to $50? Even those at the low end of giving would happily hand over more.

More to the point, it’s insulting to be asked for so little. It says two things to your donors:

  • You are not generous
  • We are not worth it

Those are not messages you want to put out there.

Big thoughts lead to big action. Asking your donors to dream large will translate into not just more money but more committed donors. At a lunch recently, Sue Bender, development director of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation ( remembered a former boss who would tell prospects that he wanted to talk with them about a gift. They could, he would say, talk about a modest gift or one that would be more impactful. Which kind of gift do you think most people were more interested in?

Of course. We all want to make an impact—and most of us know that too small of a gift—one that doesn’t make us think about it—isn’t the way to do that.

I’m not suggesting that you ask for a ridiculously high gift. Just something that would be meaningful. Yes, it may be too high (at least this first time you ask); but it’s unlikely that someone will be offended.

In point of fact, people are more offended if you ask for too little. Ask for too much (but within a reasonable range), and you will get an answer that says “I’m flattered you think I could make such a big gift.” Ask for too little and they will be anything but flattered. They very well may be offended that you think so little of them. They certainly will think less of you.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, develop stronger boards and staff, and to think big to help accomplish their important goals. Learn more at