Before you go out and ask a potential donor to support your plan, make sure you have developed a budget. So that you know what resources you need to implement the plan. In other words, before you do an ask, define exactly what you need.

Why do I need to know my budget?

In short, because you need to know exactly what you are asking for. What kind of support do you need? How much money do you need? Which in-kind donations might be helpful to the plan? Once that is clear, you can do a much clearer ask of any potential donor.

Size matters

Also, size matters. If you are approaching individual donors that are not wealthy, with a plan that will cost one million USD, people may easily be discouraged from supporting you. Because it will seem an impossible task. And what if you won’t make it to the needed 1 million USD? Will their contribution then be lost?

On the other hand, if the goal seems doable for the circle of people you are approaching, they are more likely to invest in it, because they will feel the reality of their contribution making it happen. So almost from the moment of giving they feel part of the success already.

OK, so what?

So, thinking about the budget for your plan – think about the people you will approach for support as well. What will seem within the range of the doable for them? What could look ambitious yet doable enough to them? Can you break down your big plan into smaller elements in case your potential donors are discouraged by the size?


If you don’t know what would seem doable to them, go ahead and ask them! (yes, this is a kind of validation of the financial bandwidth of your idea) Set up a coffee meeting with someone you see as a potential donor (or someone who from your perspective shares similarities with a potential donor). Tell the about your idea. Tell them that you are looking for their advice for how to look for contributions. What would seem reasonable to them to ask? What ballpark size project would seem doable to them as a target?

Make sure you keep asking and listening. Don’t argue. Don’t defend. Explain only what they ask you to explain. Go deeper and deeper with your questions. See this as a learning opportunity, a research project. This is not the ask yet.

Ask more

Make sure you ask them, too, what they like about the idea you shared. What are strong points in their view? What could be attractive about this idea for potential donors? Do they have ideas how you could best present it to a potential donor? Do they have ideas where you could find these potential donors? Or how you could identify them?

Ask them also if they see risks in the idea. Is there something in the idea that causes them concern? Is there some aspect of the implementation for which they would like to know more about your competences and experience in handling certain issues? If so, ask them what would set their mind at rest. What would be information that would make them have confidence in your team and your approach?

Ask for concrete help, too

Don’t forget to ask if they have more tips for you. Do they know other people who might be able to provide more advice to you? Do they know people who might be interested in supporting your goal? Would they be able to help you get connected?

My tips

  • Don’t forget to thank the persons who helped you with their ideas and advice!
  • Make sure they feel appreciated, even if they have not given you any money or in-kind donations. Their knowledge and possibly network is an in-kind donation, after all.
  • Send them a personal message, preferably by snail mail, a week or two after the meeting to thank them once more.

Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free Facebook group

You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. In this group we will create a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.