One of the most common questions candidates ask me regarding fundraising is how to figure out how much they should be asking each of their prospects to donate to the campaign.

Candidates will often sit down to make a list of everyone they know, but then be stumped by how much they should be asking each contact to give. Similarly, when a new donor comes into the campaign’s orbit, candidates are often baffled when it comes to making an ask of that new donor. Should they ask for $100? $500? $2,000?

In this article, we’re going to take a look at a simple strategy you can use to figure out how much to ask for – whether you are approaching a major donor prospect, a small-dollar donor, or anyone in between.

Don’t Stress Out about Ask Amounts

You’ll rarely know the exact right amount to ask for. It’s usually an educated guess.

Before we get to the formula, though, I want to tell you the most important thing you need to know when it comes to figuring out ask amounts: don’t stress out.

There’s no reason to get worried, anxious, or upset when it comes to setting ask amounts for your donors. I have never seen a donor get so upset at an ask that he or she abandons their support for a candidate or fails to make any donation to the campaign. On the contrary, if you ask for too much, donors are often flattered that you think they can afford that size gift. So don’t worry – you’re not going to lose donors by making the wrong size ask.

The truth is, setting your ask amounts isn’t an exact science – far from it! There’s no perfect way to set your ask size, because for 99% of your donors, you have no way of knowing their exact net worth or giving capacity. Instead, to set your ask amount, you will need to gather all of the information you can, use some common sense, and make an educated guess.

3 Important Rules for Figuring Out the Ask Amount

There are three very important rules that you need to follow when figuring out how much you are going to ask a donor for:

#1 – Always Know the Amount before Hand

First, you need to make sure you always go into the meeting (or the phone call) knowing exactly how much you want to ask the donor for. Don’t “wing it,” or figure you will go into the meeting and ask some questions to figure out the right amount. It never works. Know your amount beforehand, and stick to it.

#2 – Always Ask for More than You Think the Person Will Give

Second, when setting an ask amount, you should always ask for more than you think the person will give. Remember, if you ask for too much, the person can always “talk you down” and offer less. But I have never, in 15 years of fundraising, seen a donor offer more than you ask for.

My suggestion is that as you sit down to set your ask amount, try to figure out what the person could afford to give if they really wanted to (not what they will give, but what they could give). Then, add 10%.  Round that off to a nice even number, and that’s your ask amount.

#3 – Understand Your Donation Limits

It’s very important that whoever is doing the ask understands the donation limits for your particular campaign. Some states and municipalities have no upper donation limit, while others have strict limits. Likewise, many states prohibit corporate or cash donations, while some allow them. Most states allow a person to give a certain amount, but married couples to give double that amount, because they are two people, even if the amount is written on the same check.

Know your local donation limits and the law, so you are prepared when you walk into your ask meeting (or pick up the phone for your ask call).

How to Determine Your Ask Amount

Here’s my simple, step-by-step system for making your best educated guess as to how much to ask a donor to give to your campaign:

Step #1: Start in Your Donor File

The first place you should look is in your donor file, if you have run for office before. How much has this person given in the past? What size donations did they give, and how often? You can assume that the person can give a little more now than they did in the past, unless you find out something about the person that tells you they have had recent financial hardship.

Of course, if this is a first time ask to a new donor, you’ll need to rely on the next two rules of thumb, since you don’t have any past donations from this donor to use as a guideline.

Step #2: Use Common Sense

The next thing you should do is take what you know about this donor and use common sense to adjust your ask amount.

For example, if this donor is an attorney at a major firm in your city, what do attorneys at similarly sized law firms in your city earn, on average? If you’re not sure, you can use online tools like to help you figure it out.

Likewise, where does this donor live? How much do houses cost in that neighborhood? Does this person belong to a country club or social club? Does his or her spouse work? Do their children attend free public schools, moderately priced parochial schools, or expensive private schools?

Use all of this information to help you refine your ask amount. But remember – don’t get stressed out! Do your best, but don’t think of this as a “make or break” decision.

Step #3: Aim Higher, Rather Than Lower

My final rule of thumb is that you should always aim higher, rather than lower. As mentioned above, if you ask someone for too much, they can always talk you down to a lower amount… but if you ask for too little, they will rarely volunteer to give more.

Remember – setting ask amounts is nothing to get overly stressed about. No matter what you ask for, it is unlikely to ruin your relationship with the donor. Do your best to set a donation range, then ask for 10% more. Chances are, you’ll be very close to the mark.

Photo Credit: Otama