Major Ask Calculator

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This will sound familiar. A fundraiser has a good relationship with a donor and wants to prepare to make a major gift ask. Extensive research has been collected about the donor. It includes a philanthropic capacity estimate from services like iWave and DonorSearch, and whatever else could be found online. Notes from conversations, street research from people who know the donor, and the donor’s giving history to her organization are also gathered.

Despite all of the research, the fundraiser has an uneasy feeling that whatever ask amount is settled upon, it will, at best, be a guess. Prior experience suggests that the donor information utilized, including the philanthropic capacity estimate, may not represent an accurate reality.

The Problem

The following quote from a recent iWave publication summarizes the most significant challenge facing all major gifts fundraisers when using philanthropic capacity estimates. iWave suggests you:

“Take a conservative approach when calculating capacity. Generally speaking, a capacity rating is an estimation of a prospect’s giving ability to all nonprofit causes over a five-year period.

Cross-reference wealth data with other indicators such as a propensity to give and affinity for your cause.”

In other words, good luck coming up with a major gift ask amount. Also, and more importantly, feel free to play it safe and likely leave money on the table. This challenge is quite common but rarely discussed in professional advancement circles. As gift officers privately describe it, coming up with the ask is like “shooting from the hip.”

The Solution

Early September marked the launch of a paradigm-changing fundraising technology for nonprofits called Abacus™ Major Donor Ask Calculator. The Ask Calculator is a powerful tool that picks up where philanthropic capacity estimates and other donor research leave off. It allows fundraisers to determine bold yet respectful asks that they can confidently request, along with when to discuss an estate gift. By using empirical and objective data, fundraisers are able to overcome personal bias about money that affects ask decisions. 

The Ask Calculator uses a proprietary algorithm that draws upon Founder Larry Raff’s 40 years as an advancement executive and consultant and ten years of research with over 400 advancement officers.  It considers various objective factors, including donor giving history, wealth, and organization-specific engagement.

The Calculator provides a bold, respectful, credible, and defendable ask amount. It also offers an expected pledge goal, an ask readiness score, and an exportable library of donor profiles that can be used for analytics and planning. Nonprofit clients of Copley Raff Inc. have used and valued the Calculator as a desktop application for over five years.

In real-world evaluations of actual gifts, philanthropic capacity estimates from wealth estimation services were a considerable 250% off from actual pledges. The Calculator’s expected goal value was accurate to within 2%, and the aspirational ask value was within 40% of actual pledges.

The Ask Calculator is available now on the Abacus website ( Individuals and organizations can sign up for a free 7-day unlimited-use trial to see how the tool works and how it can specifically benefit their fundraising efforts. Monthly subscriptions are available for single users and larger fundraising teams.

By using a standard set of bias-free data points specific to the donor’s connection with their organization, fundraisers can avoid the major gift ask guessing game and inevitable bias to know they have enough essential information to proceed with a successful gift discussion. Such tools represent a paradigm shift in how fundraisers prepare for and make major donor asks and how to make sense of and operationalize donor research.

All of our blogs, products and services are proudly conceived, created, reviewed, and disseminated by real humans — not A.I. (artificial “intelligence.”)

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