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3 Steps to Make the Right Ask to Donors at the Right Time

By February 2, 2021

By: Alissa Silverman, Nonprofit Industry Advisor at

Ask a fundraiser to describe what December and January were like and you’ll get a word cloud of seemingly conflicting emotions: joyous, chaotic, rewarding, exhausting (seriously, I asked them).

Now add an entirely new social environment, a global pandemic, and physical distancing guidelines to the list. There’s never been a more important time to press on with your work.

Development teams across the country may have a shared experience of what’s missing, but what’s ahead varies significantly by sector and cause. Last year, some development teams welcomed bigger gifts and new donors as needs heightened with public health, hunger, politics, and social justice. Others closed doors to patrons, canceled in-person activities, saw donors give less than usual during a reimagined online event, and felt the pain of layoffs in every way — including a false sense of responsibility.

An organization’s current development experience is not a reflection of their worthiness of mission, leadership, or impact. So how can all organizations, no matter their current outlook, forge ahead and maximize the potential that exists? First, acknowledge that the next 18 months will be a test for all organizations of their agility and perseverance. Second, up-tool and up-skill development teams that center on the donor’s experience.

Many development teams function comfortably with limited use of outdated systems and/or skip investments that they know will make them more efficient in the interest of maximizing programmatic funding. Now is the time, however, to realize the power of technology without losing the personal connections that motivate both your team members and donors.

Making the right ask in the right way at the right time is critical to hitting your fundraising goals.

Customer relationship management (CRM) tools, like’s Nonprofit Cloud, sit at the heart of digital empowerment, allowing you to build, maintain, and grow relationships. Digitizing the deeper information beyond name and giving history — the kind of critical data that often lives in handwritten notes — gives organizations a better understanding of things like relationships to other donors, affiliations with other organizations, and conversation history. 

Codifying and turning these data points into automated actions and actionable insights is where the magic happens. It’s what enables you to create the donor experience that maximizes engagement and giving, so that you can personalize your ask for every donor in your portfolio. 

Here are three steps to making the right ask, in the right way, at the right time: 

1) The Right Ask

A donor’s giving history helps you understand the best ask amount. Imagine being able to send every donor personalized giving levels. You set the starting point and escalator, and technology takes over for your entire distribution list. Not only will you reduce the chance of leaving money on the table with generic ask amounts, but you will also encourage upgrades while gaining important insights into how enthusiastically people are responding to your message.

Focused on major giving? While it won’t replace the warm conversation you can have with a donor about their connection to your work, their interests, and their philanthropic goals, imagine tiering your portfolio on an automated assessment of a donor’s giving history, wealth screening profile, and interactions. This kind of insight can guide your time and effort, and focus your strategy and ask amount. With less of your energy, you’re able to execute a strategy that retains and upgrades more donors because you’re making the right asks.

2) The Right Way

Chances are that this year will provide a new slate of giving opportunities. Donors who raise their hands to make major gifts at events — seated with friends and inspired by peers and social pressure — will need to be engaged in new ways. So too will the donors who reaffirm their commitment during in-person visits.

Event donors who will be missing the social aspect of the experience may be the hardest segment for organizations to retain this year. Knowing as much as possible about these donors — who they know on your Board, where and with whom they sat last year, what emails they opened, what posts they liked — will be key to recapturing their attention

Since the patterns of donor engagement are broken, even veteran fundraisers may fumble a donor strategy that would have been flawless last year. By taking the time to design donor-centric experiences fit for 2021 — and then capturing them in your CRM through pre-planned and well-timed tasks — you’ll make it easy for team members to provide a curated engagement plan to donors by segment. 

New donor acquisition will be challenging, whether you are flooded with new leads or nudging your Board for connections. Your CRM is the launchpad to activate a unique set of communications that flow based on your prospect’s path to your organization. Imagine how confident your volunteers will feel setting up a virtual coffee with members of their network if they knew that a successful conversation would trigger an email series starting with a message of gratitude, an introduction to members of the leadership team, and a demonstration of impact. Only if their prospect is engaged will there be an ask for an appropriate gift. With digital tools, providing these donor journeys is automated and efficient.

Blackboard showing fundraising strategy

3) The Right Time

Action-oriented dashboards can keep a development team moving in sync with their donors. On one screen, you can pull easily-accessible reports showing who typically gives that month, what pledges are coming due, which donors expect an impact report, etc. If you and your team like friendly competition, you can even track team member “meetings” or other meaningful touchpoints, crowning the highest achiever each month.

And speaking of the right time, where would we be without our phones? App-based technology puts all this critical donor info at your fingertips, so that you can be “right on” even if the only productive space you can find is in your coat closet or hiding in your car.

The heart and soul of development work will always be relationships, authentic connections between missions and donor values, and the desire to “be the change.” The fundamentals of making the right ask at the right time in the right way hold true through change, challenges, and progress. Now is the time to take steps — however small or grand — to improve your capabilities and improve the donor experience.

Ready to get started on your data-driven fundraising journey? Learn more about’s CRM solutions for Nonprofits.

About the Author

Alissa Silverman
serves as a Nonprofit Industry Advisor for Salesforce. Prior to joining Salesforce, Alissa focused on expanding youth opportunities through various roles in the nonprofit sector — all focused around fundraising. She’s served as an executive director of a community based organization, regional leader of an international fundraising organization, fundraising coach to Executive Directors within a national nonprofit, and, most recently, the chief of growth strategy and development for a scaling direct service organization.